The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has received just shy of $1 million in Fire Prevention and Safety Grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop a free public safety drone compliance program that will include educational training and a searchable knowledge base to track fire service drone programs and usage.
NFPA says fire departments have rapidly expanded the use of drones as more communities have realized the lifesaving impact that aerial technology can have in response to structural fires, wildland firefighting, search and rescue efforts, hazardous material responses, natural disaster efforts, and any other events that would benefit from increased situational awareness.
Although drone safety policies and standards continue to evolve, says NFPA, many U.S. fire departments are without the proper information, knowledge and experience needed to establish and maintain a legally sound public safety program that is compliant with federal regulations and the standards produced by ASTM International, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NFPA.
Without proper understanding of how to integrate drones into public safety efforts, fire departments may deploy drones inaccurately; may inappropriately gather information during an incident; and may interfere with manned and unmanned flight operations in the area. All these missteps needlessly expose fire departments to liability, explains NFPA.
The NFPA drone project will generate guidance, learnings and best practices that U.S. fire departments need to establish a compliant, successful drone program by focusing on the following steps:
- Assessing the current level of understanding, policies and standards on public safety drone usage;
- Developing a drone program framework, including resources, education and an accessible portal that allows departments to comply with current regulations and standards;
- Tracking fire service drone programs and their relevant use cases; and
- Freely disseminating essential information and training so that departments can establish regionally and nationally compliant public safety drone programs.
The new initiative will follow NFPA’s Emerging Technologies training development and dissemination model that has been in effect since 2010.
“As we have seen with NFPA alternative fuel vehicle and energy storage system training, the fire service is eager to learn about emerging technologies that may present new hazards, or in this case, help to mitigate and monitor safety challenges,” says Christian Dubay, NFPA’s vice president and chief engineer. “The new educational resources and portal will help fire departments across the country confidently establish and maintain public safety drone programs.”
In 2018, NFPA released NFPA 2400, Standard for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems to help the fire service address organizational deployment, professional qualifications, system selection, and care and maintenance for public safety drone programs.
Deliverables from the new research project are expected to be completed by September 2021.