Philly Explores Myriad Uses of Drones for City Departments

Posted by Betsy Lillian on January 27, 2016 No Comments

Philadelphia’s city controller, Alan Butkovitz, has issued a report that outlines best practices for the city to implement drones as a method to improve public safety and enhance numerous government services.

As part of the review, the controller’s office launched its own drone to visually inspect select neighborhoods with dangerous buildings across several sections of the city. In turn, the footage captured several concerning conditions: e.g., missing roofs, weak structures, and signs of trespassing on large and unsafe structures.

According to Butkovitz, the immediate advantage of using a drone was realized by its ability to cover more ground in less time: A visual inspection of one block consisting of 56 homes was completed in 30 seconds.

“The use of drones to inspect properties would not be a substitute to professional inspections conducted by licensed city inspectors,” explains Butkovitz.  “It would not eliminate inspectors or other agency staff needed to perform important, daily tasks. This technology is to enhance workers’ abilities to perform their jobs quicker, easier and in a safe manner.”

Along with monitoring building conditions, Butkovitz indicated that drones could be utilized across several city departments and agencies, including the following:

  • Fire department: aid fire and EMS vehicles to survey traffic and street conditions in route of an emergency to increase response times;
  • Streets department: monitor streets that haven’t been plowed and allow crews to dispatch trucks to clear the snow from these areas;
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority: deploy drones along rail lines and other transportation routes during inclement weather and other instances when there are issues with track conditions; and
  • Parks and recreation: use aerial imagery to assess stream conditions, ecological patterns and wildlife populations.

“All [Federal Aviation Administration] regulations would need to be followed, and drone operators should be trained and be held accountable for operating the aerial technology responsibly and safely,” Butkovitz continues. “Working with the city’s aviation division would also provide extra oversight of the drone operators.”

He adds, “The city needs to explore how the latest advancements in technology can improve government functions that can benefit all Philadelphians.”

The complete report can be found here.

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