Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on January 1, 2020.

Safer Drones

A FEMA grant will help NFPA develop a public safety drone program for the fire service


NFPA will soon receive nearly $1 million to develop a free public safety drone compliance program for the nation’s fire service.

That was the news from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in October, which made the announcement as part of its annual Fire Prevention and Safety Grant awards.

Through this initiative, NFPA will provide educational training to responders, maintain a database tracking fire service drone programs and usage, and build an online portal that agencies can use to ensure their drone programs are compliant with current regulations and standards.

“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 mitigate and monitor safety challenges,” said Christian Dubay, NFPA 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.”

Having eyes and myriad sensors watching from the sky has proven to be a useful tool for a range of public safety operations, including wildfire response, search and rescue efforts, structural firefighting, and more. As a result, an estimated 900 public safety agencies across the United States are now flying aerial drones, according to a recent study, and many more are expected to soon follow.

That rapid expansion, however, has prompted fears that some agencies might be diving into this aerial future without the knowledge to build a safe and effective program.

To develop a program that can allay those concerns, NFPA and the Fire Protection Research Foundation will conduct a comprehensive review of best practices across the nation and assess the current level of understanding, policies, and standards of public safety drone usage. The process will likely mirror other programs that NFPA has already built to prepare responders to face hazards associated with emerging technologies, including its successful educational resources on alternative fuel vehicles and energy storage systems.

NFPA hopes to launch the new public safety drone compliance program by September 2021.

This is not NFPA’s first foray into helping safety agencies adopt drone technology. Last year, the organization published NFPA 2400, Standard for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Used for Public Safety Operations, which details a wide range of considerations for departments, including the operation, deployment, and implementation of drone programs, as well as professional qualifications and maintenance.

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor for NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images