Drones to the rescue: how drones are helping in the fight against COVID-19

With COVID-19 “stay at home” advisories in effect across the globe, an unlikely technology has come to the aid of public safety agencies responsible for enforcement measures: drones.

Government officials everywhere have asked citizens to practice social distancing and stay at home to flatten the curve of COVID-19 spread. The results have been dramatic with just about every industry from ride share services to grocery stores implementing changes. Enforcement of the widespread restrictions currently in place is certainly unprecedented, and that's where drones come in to play.

China got a head start on the coronavirus and has been creatively using drones for aerial spray and disinfection, to transport samples, and to deliver food and other goods to consumers. Fox News recently reported that public safety agencies in California are using drones to deter people from congregating in groups at parks and other recreational areas. Meanwhile, Zipline, a company whose medical delivery drones have been instrumental in life safety efforts in Ghana and Rwanda, is now working with U.S. policy makers to rapidly deploy their technology domestically in the fight against COVID-19.

NFPA has been monitoring the utilization of drones by public safety agencies around the globe for years, and recently published the first edition of NFPA 2400, Standard for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Used for Public Safety Operations. NFPA 2400 help authorities looking to deploy drone programs by providing relevant industry insight and best practices The standard covers the implementation, deployment, and use of sUAS in the public safety community so that agencies can enhance their inspection, search and rescue, fire ground, and operational capabilities.
In 2019, NFPA also received an Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop and disseminate essential drone program compliance information to the U.S. fire service via online learning modules, educational videos, and interactive simulations. The training deliverables for this project are currently in development and will be available in the spring of 2021.

As we are seeing today, technologies such as drones and unmanned systems will increasingly be called upon to augment public safety capabilities around the world. Lessons learned during COVID-19 may very well help with the fight against wildfires, influence future search and rescue efforts, and provide invaluable information when other emergencies present.

Stay safe and healthy.

NFPA has relevant resources designed to keep you informed about important fire, building, and life safety guidance during this pandemic period. NFPA codes and standards are also available for free online access.

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Michael Gorin
Program Manager, Technical Services

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