DHS Assesses Drones for Public Safety Over 4-Day Project
Friday, April 03, 2020 | Comments

In November, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) assessed small, commercially available drones for priority needs of first responders through its First Responder Robotic Operations System Test (FRROST) program. FRROST took place over four days, with a different drone assessed each day.

The S&T First Responder Resource Group (FRRG), a volunteer working group of experienced emergency response and preparedness professionals from across the U.S. who guide research and development (R&D) efforts, identified the needs. The assessment was performed under realistic field conditions at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi.

“We are focused on the first responder community — fire, police and emergency management departments — and we are assessing small UAS (unmanned aerial systems),” said Cecilia Murtagh, FRROST project manager. “They are much cheaper than manned aircraft, which makes them an ideal tool for response agencies.”

Nine first responder drone pilots from across the U.S. assessed four small drones in fields and mock urban settings at Camp Shelby. The drones weighed between 1.9 and 13.5 pounds. The pilots, with law enforcement, firefighting and emergency management backgrounds, participated in three different search-and-rescue scenarios: lost hiker (in an isolated field), post-flood disaster (in the urban setting and an adjacent field) and a twilight scenario (in the urban setting).

The drones demonstrated different capabilities and participants provided feedback to NUSTL after taking turns flying them.

“All participants are getting an opportunity to run the drones through those standard test lanes to see how they match up against what they would like to see in a mission ready, small unmanned aerial system,” said Capt. Tom Haus of the Los Angeles Fire Department, who assisted the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with FRROST’s standard testing and scenarios.

Participants assessed how well the drones could be stabilized, how easily they could be flown, and how well their payloads functioned. Payloads included 30-times zoom cameras for distant visualization and thermal cameras for twilight and night.

During the twilight testing, drones demonstrated their thermal imaging cameras, and participants watched on a monitor what the drone was seeing. One of the pilots moved the drone vertically, hovered it over the car, a roof and in front of a window, all with clusters of buckets. This simulated how a drone could be operated to look for survivors after an emergency or disaster, such as a hurricane.

A large drone with a 42-megapixel camera and an infrared camera was tested during the last day. It was designed for professional inspection and surveying of bridges and other areas. The first responder evaluators determined that it could be paired together with a smaller, faster drone. In this scenario, the evaluators used the large drone for overall incident awareness and then used a smaller drone for closer inspection.

The feedback provided by participants in the FRROST event will be documented in a final assessment report and shared nationally with the first responder community to help with procurement decisions.

Moving forward, another S&T project called Joint Unmanned Systems Testing in Collaborative Environment (JUSTICE) assesses drones and sensors for the homeland security enterprise. JUSTICE is managed by the S&T Air Based Technologies Program and a team of experts from the Mississippi State University Raspet Flight Research Laboratory.

“Putting the drone in your hand, running it through its paces, seeing how it performs in a real scenario helps me determine if that's going to fit our mission and save us money,” said D.J. Smith, technical surveillance agent with the Virginia State Police. “That’s critical for us.”

More information is here.

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