Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program

Overview

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones, have emerged as an important and effective tool for emergency response and other public safety purposes.

DHSES, like many government agencies across the country, maintains a UAS Program to safely and effectively support the agency’s mission. In compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules governing the use of small (< 55 lbs.) unmanned aircraft systems, DHSES has obtained a Certificate of Authorization (COA). All DHSES drone pilots have obtained the FAA’s Remote Pilot Certificate and regularly engage in training or UAS operations to maintain flight proficiency.

For addition information on UAS regulations, authorities, guidelines, and toolkits, visit the FAA website.

How DHSES is Using UAS

In accordance with DHSES’s mission, drones are used for a variety of public safety and emergency response purposes including, but not limited to:

  • Conducting damage assessment,
  • Gathering and maintaining situational awareness during emergencies, site operations, exercises, and planned events,
  • Conducting fire investigations or hazardous materials response activities,
  • Performing search and rescue operations (e.g., swift water, technical rescue),
  • Conducting infrastructure assessments,
  • Providing UAS-related training for state and local first responders and other partners,
  • Inspection of radio towers and associated communication infrastructure.

Drone Training Program

To assist state and local public safety agencies in achieving safe UAS operations, DHSES has developed a training program. This training provides first responder and public safety officials with the information and guidance to develop their own UAS programs, maintain proficiency with UAS systems and technologies, and ensure UAS operators remain aware of relevant policy changes.

DHSES will provide this training to interested partners, including state and local public safety and other government agencies. The training only occurs at approved training venues, to include the State Preparedness Training Center (SPTC) and the State Fire Academy.

The training program offers several different courses to include:

  • UAS Awareness Workshop
    • Designed for representatives from public safety agencies considering the development of a UAS program. Includes an overview of UAS operations in the public safety realm, regulations, issues, and challenges, UAS program management, and counter-UAS issues.
  • UAS Part 107 Preparation Course
    • Helps prospective public safety UAS pilots to prepare for – and successfully pass – the FAA Part 107 Exam. This exam is focused on regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.
  • UAS Operator Course
    • A combined ground and flight school designed to prepare participants to safely and effectively manage and conduct UAS operations.
  • UAS Night Flight Course
    • Course is designed to provide public safety officials an introductory opportunity to safely fly small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at night to support their agency’s program. Course addresses the increased risk associated with flying at night by providing participants both ground instruction and practical flight experience necessary to mitigate risk as much as possible.
  • UAS Indoor Flight Skills
    • Course includes classroom instruction, skills lanes, and scenarios that emphasize various elements of indoor flight, including flying down hallways, into and out of rooms, up and down stairways, and from outdoors to indoors (and vice-versa). Scenario-based flying will be tailored to a variety of missions, including search and rescue, hazardous materials response, and law enforcement response efforts.

 

DHSES also hosts an annual Public Safety UAS Summit which brings federal, state, and local public safety professionals together to have meaningful conversations and share best practices on safe UAS operations.

View up to date details on upcoming training courses here.

Reporting

In support of the agency’s mission, drones are used for a variety of public safety and emergency response purposes. In 2023, DHSES flew 144 missions. The graphic below provides additional information to include the categories of operations conducted.

Chart displaying Unmanned Aircraft Systems missions conducted in 2023

Privacy

DHSES recognizes the importance of conducting UAS operations in a manner that does not infringe on individuals’ privacy rights. To protect these rights, DHSES has adopted a Privacy Policy and designated a Privacy Officer to ensure agency operations follow federal and state laws related to privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.

 

The UAS Privacy Officer is also responsible for:

  • Acting as a liaison to citizen and community privacy advocacy groups,
  • Responding to public and other inquiries regarding the agency’s UAS privacy practices,
  • Receiving and investigating allegations regarding policy violations,
  • Reporting investigative findings to the agency’s UAS Program Coordinator and the agency head,
  • Reviewing the Privacy Policy annually.

 

Any UAS recorded data captured by agency personnel deemed irrelevant or immaterial to the UAS mission or another public safety purpose will be purged no later than 30 days after completion of the UAS mission and is not retained by the agency. All DHSES UAS pilots are required to complete an annual Privacy Policy training. 

Members of the public who wish to file a complaint stating their privacy rights have been violated during a DHSES drone operation may complete the following UAS Privacy Complaint Form below and submit it to [email protected] for further review, and action if necessary.  Please be aware this process is solely for DHSES operations and is not intended to be the complaint process for any other federal, state, or local UAS activities.

 

UAS Privacy Complaint Form