Commercial Drone Professional is taking a look into drones and the emergency services this month.
As part of the Special Report in May, CDP spoke to Sergeant James Rees, the Alliance Drone Team manager in Devon and Cornwall.
This is his insight into what it takes to run a drone program:
He writes: “When I joined the team in 2018, my predecessor (along with two other officers, including my current Senior Pilot), had done a fantastic job of establishing the programme. They began by running a pilot project which involved the purchase of a DJI Inspire drone, they wrote an Operations Manual and applied to the CAA for the relevant permissions. It meant them having to deploy to incidents on their days off or whenever they could get released from their day jobs.
They did a significant amount of internal and external engagement work to gain support, to educate and to allay fears of “expensive toys” or “privacy intrusion”. Ultimately, they were able to demonstrate the value of the technology to senior officers and the Police and Crime Commissioners for each respective force, and so the decision was made to establish the Drone Team.
Since then, due to their hard work, we have been able to move forward and focus our efforts on expansion as well as identifying areas for improvement. Our main aim was to provide better geographic cover and so as I previously mentioned, we quickly trained more pilots and invested in new equipment. Relatively recently we had close to 60 pilots and at the time we were trying to manage that and a fleet of 30 drones on multiple Excel spreadsheets.
We quickly realised this wasn’t sustainable and this led us to invest in a cloud-based solution called CENTRIK to manage our records, including pilot logs, taskings and risk assessments. Now our operators do everything electronically on tablets and so we don’t have the burden of paper records.
We have also rationalised our pilot numbers, removing those who were struggling to keep up with their CPD and so we now stand at just 45 pilots. Other issues that have slowed progress are fairly common in any commercial or public organisation setting; we have had to compete and wait our turn for resources such as staff, ICT support and the provision of vehicles, so it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. It has been a very steep learning curve, but one which we have thoroughly enjoyed.
We are all passionate about the benefits drones can bring, and fortunately for us, the end product we produce does much of the talking for us. However, still to this day there is a lack of understanding from some about the complexities and legal aspects of operating drones and so it’s vitally important to invest time to engage with key stakeholders and get them on board. This applies to external parties as well, so we regularly interact with councillors, MP’s and community groups to share the good work drones are doing and address any of their concerns.
We have also developed a public education course called Safer Drones, which provides an opportunity for people who own a drone, or who are maybe thinking about buying one, to come and find out about the legislation, how to use a drone safely, and how we are using the equipment to protect our communities. This has proved to be extremely popular and we are very close to rolling this out nationally so that other parts of the country can benefit as well.”