Government use of drones is on the rise. But integrating public safety efforts with research, innovation and environmental agencies is a complicated business. DJI has put together a guide for public sector leaders with insights into the strategy and structure behind one of the most successful government drone programs.
The state of North Carolina has set the standard for the integration of drone operations across public sector applications.
As well as establishing a statewide drone collaboration program led by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation, that DoA has a working group dedicated to introducing drone programs to other government departments.
North Carolina’s drone programs have covered a number of state-level operations. The most notable being the Hurricane Florence disaster response, relief and reconstruction in 2018.
This week DJI published a white paper titled, ‘Drones in Government Work’, exploring how the technology was used and how different public-sector bodies in N.C. built a collaborative drone program.
Read more: An Insider Look at North Carolina’s Intense Response to Hurricane Florence
The North Carolina Framework
In 2018, dramatic footage captured by drones flown by several North Carolina agencies emerged showing devastation across the state as Hurricane Florence made land.
Fifteen drone teams from seven different agencies flew over the affected areas. Over 8,000 videos and images detailed flooded roadways, damaged towns, washed-out bridges and more.
These missions also provided the data needed to guide response and recovery efforts.
North Carolina’s Drone Framework is essentially a layered program of drone deployment, public education and outreach. The network is made up of small local police and fire departments, state-level departments – including the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and State Highway Patrol – and educational institutions, such as North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy.
Organizations deploying drones can learn from NCDOT
The North Carolina Framework is led by NCDOT. NCDOT’s Division of Aviation’s UAS Program Office is tasked with expanding safe and beneficial drone use across the state.
DJI’s whitepaper points out that NCDOT has been leading the way since its first drone program launched in 2015.
“In 2018, NCDOT was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of ten teams for its three-year UAS Integration Pilot Program to test and inform national regulations and systems for drone use across the country,” it reads.
DJI also notes that other large organizations have followed in the footsteps of NCDOT, particularly in building a central management system to support cross-organizational drone deployments.
“Most notably at the federal level is the Department of Interior, whose Office of Aviation Services has been charged with overseeing drone operations at a scale of 10,000 flights and 400 FAA certified pilots in 2018. This structure is similarly being used by leading enterprises such as Southern Company and Union Pacific, suggesting learnings from NCDOT are relevant to all large organizations deploying drones.”
It is DJI’s opinion – gained from interfacing with government and private-industry organizations – that the North Carolina Framework is an ideal structure for other public-sector entities to follow.” – DJI
The role of NCDOT’s Department of Aviation
Key to NCDOT’s drone success is the Division of Aviation. Among other things, the DOA’s role is to promote aviation and aerospace development while handling the state’s unmanned aircraft systems program. This ranges from innovation to aviation safety and education programs.
The DOA’s drone program can claim a series of firsts, including the state’s first coordinated drone response to a disaster, the first U.S. medical package drone delivery demonstration and the first U.S. routine for-revenue drone delivery flights.
The whitepaper goes onto look at the use of drones across a number of state agencies, before offering advice and guidance to other organizations considering the adoption of drone technology.
You can download the full Drones in Government whitepaper here.