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Drones, Emergency Response, and FAA Reauthorization

Drones, Emergency Response, and FAA Reauthorization
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AUGUST 10th, 2016

On July 15th President Barack Obama signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016. While the primary purpose of the bill was to keep the FAA funded, it also clarified the regulatory environment for commercial drones, addressing operations concerning critical infrastructure, research projects in the Arctic, and in emergency response by civil and public operators.

First responders and emergency workers are particularly enthused, as there is an unofficial moratorium on drone emergency response efforts. FAA regulations don’t allow for the most useful emergency applications; even the new Part 107 rules preempt beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) and overhead flights. Most state and local governments also forbid drone operations during crises,  grounding any drones in neighboring areas as part of emergency alerts. And with good reason—wayward drones have caused serious problems for firefighters and other emergency personnel in the past.


A provision in the FAA Reauthorization impels the FAA to publish guidance for rush processing of applications to use UAS to respond to “catastrophe, disaster, or other emergency.” Under the aforementioned guidance process, civil and public operators are given priority for exemption—giving them the privilege to be part of the wave of first-responders.

However, under the current language private operators, many of whom are already contracted to state and local governments for public works inspections, have the potential to be sidestepped for operations they are fully capable of performing.

Unlike civil operators, who are tied to equipment & standards developed through complicated bureaucratic processes, private operators are able to offer cheaper services and top-of-the-line equipment. Operators like Measure are able to fully leverage partnerships with equipment manufacturers, and have the leeway to capably fly these drones in innovative, never-before-seen ways in order to better serve the American public.

Private operators are also able to devote all of their time to honing their skill at flying. Police officers—even specialists—have other responsibilities to attend to, and by definition will have fewer flight hours than a dedicated pilot. Commercial operators don’t have to deal with tasks required of a public operator, while being just as quick to deploy—an essential quality for a field as unpredictable as catastrophe response.

Neglecting commercial operators and relying solely on government agencies in rapid response means neglecting a critical pool of expertise and resources. When people lose everything to storms or floods, we owe it to them to deliver a full response, not one hamstrung by noncomprehensive legislation.


How else can unmanned systems work for the public sector? Read about drones and America's infrastructure crisis on our blog.

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Topics: Industry Insights