Public safety organizations across the country are investing in drone technology to serve their communities. But as town governments add drones to the budget line, it’s often left to the department to figure out how to purchase a drone and implement a program. Here are 3 things every fire and police department should know before making an investment in drone equipment.
#1. Application is everything. (And budget is a close second.)
Before looking at drones, you’ll need to find out exactly how your department plans to use the drone. Applications vary widely and are evolving all the time – from monitoring a fire and crew from the air to search and rescue; suspect recovery, both during the day and at night; traffic management; accident reconstruction; and crowd monitoring. (For more ideas and demonstrations of applications, check out this short video.) The type of drone you’ll need depends upon the payload you’ll be using to achieve your mission. The payload – a camera, thermal imaging tool, optical zoom lens, or drop tool – is a significant part of the investment.
Once you’ve established how your department will use drone technology, you’ll have to figure out your budget. While some departments have a yearly amount to spend, others may require that the equipment purchase be spread across the year. A reputable dealer can help you manage your investment to get use from your drone right away, while leaving room to upgrade payloads later.
Rob Schield, a veteran firefighter and the owner of Fire Cam, a major provider of public service equipment including drones, says that the right initial purchase depends upon a number of factors. Your budget, your applications, location and the departmental staff who will fly it should all be considered. “Often we start people off with an easy-to-use, less expensive platform,” says Schield. “But the right drone will still allow you to upgrade to other payloads like thermal imaging when the budget is available.”
#2. Service is important.
Drone technology is mission-critical equipment for fire and police departments, so choosing an equipment provider that can support you both before and after purchase is important. Before buying a drone online, consider your departments needs and the resources you have available in-house for training and equipment repair. The majority of drones are manufactured overseas – and customer service from the manufacturer is rarely easy to get.
Your department may need help with basic training on the equipment, information about regulations and certifications, and help with repair, replacement parts, and upgrades. It’s far more cost-effective to partner with a dealer who can provide those for you than to pay for an independent training or service company after purchase.
In fire and police departments, the nature of the business makes service needs unpredictable and time-critical. Schield says his company has been called upon to provide support in many types of emergencies – including the time a customer crashed the drone into a building two days before a scheduled community demonstration of the new equipment. “We just overnighted them a replacement,” he says. “It worked out!” The overseas manufacturer of the drone probably wouldn’t have done that.
#3. Think long term investment, rather than price.
All public service departments are necessarily budget conscious. But before choosing a drone strictly based on the immediate price tag, you’ll want to consider the longevity of your investment. A platform that can accommodate not only the payloads that you’ll use right now, but those that you may want to purchase next year will be more cost-effective in the long run than a cheaper model that will need to be replaced as soon as the department wants to expand its program. It’s always easier to make the right choice up front rather than have to justify a new purchase in a few months or a year when the value of a drone program has been proven.
Drone technology offers significant value for fire and police departments, and their communities. It keeps both department members and citizens safer, and provides life-saving tools. Drones are a worthwhile investment – consider your options carefully before making it.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.