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Air Incident Response: Public Safety using Autonomous Drones in Urban Environments

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Louisville, like many cities, experienced a spike in homicides starting in 2016. Recent deployment of gunshot detection technology has been effective at pinpointing where and when gunshots occur. On average, police officers arrive long after the critical, first ten minute window to stabilize injuries. Placing drones strategically throughout our city, we will be able to deploy a camera to the scene within 90 seconds of when a gun is discharged and rapidly dispatch emergency medical personnel.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Homicides have nearly doubled over the ten year average, resulting in 100+ lives lost annually, 300+ people injured by gunshots and less economic development in distressed neighborhoods. Current crime-fighting and peace-building initiatives are yielding promising results, but it remains a challenge and more needs to be done.

Our project integrates existing gunshot detection technology with autonomous, aerial drones to enhance emergency medical response time to injured persons. Through intelligent coding, drones will deploy to detected gunshots within 90 seconds of detection in geographically predefined areas. Drones will be equipped to stream video to the Real Time Crime Center to augment the existing fixed position surveillance system, allowing personnel to rapidly identify injured persons, dispatch emergency medical personnel, and assist with first responder situational awareness and safety until officers arrive. This innovative solution will be the first of its kind while integrating into our existing peace-building initiatives. The hospital-based Pivot to Peace program approaches victims of gunshot injuries and their loved ones, with the assistance of Community Health Workers and Case Workers, to identify and address the factors in their lives that have put them at risk of violence at a moment when they may be rethinking their choices. No More Red Dots and Cure Violence deploy Violence Interrupters into the community to de-escalate conflicts and break the cycle of violence. In addition, our public engagement effort includes educational and small business creation opportunities including a drone camp for children and Part 107 certification workshops to address the root causes of gun violence in communities.

The consequences of homicide are vast and have rippling effects throughout a community. A combination of factors has shaped an average 12.6 year reduction in life expectancy for residents living in neighborhoods where gun violence is concentrated, as opposed to other neighborhoods in Louisville. Improved medical response times create the opportunity to save lives and connect those impacted by gun violence to our existing ecosystem of emergency first responders, hospitals, violence interrupters, and wraparound services. This program will build trust with the community. Residents will be empowered to promote safety in their neighborhoods and take back public spaces for community use. Businesses will relocate to target areas and residents will feel a renewed sense of local and civic pride. An increased feeling of safety will lead to more outdoor opportunities, increasing public health outcomes for identified neighborhoods.

Louisville was selected to be a 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge Champion City (finalist) for this project and we are awaiting to hear the status of the grant award for our final application at the end of October 2018.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Based on our research, no city has implemented the use of autonomous drones in public safety in this manner. Police departments across the country may have a drone program that deploys officers as drone operators for visual line of sight flight operations. They may also have public safety camera surveillance programs and have deployed a gunshot detection technology platform. However, they have not combined the various technologies together in a single, fully integrated system. This project will be the first of its kind.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Our proposal has been submitted to the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge. It included identification of the various work streams required to implement the project, a three year project plan, and metrics of success. The final grant award will be announced in late October 2018 and will be the funding for our implementation of the project. We are also in the process of obtaining authorization to operate drones in the city of Louisville from the FAA as outlined in our proposal to Bloomberg.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Our stakeholders can be largely categorized as Louisville Metro Government employees, state and federal government agencies, community and faith partners, advocacy groups, educational institutions, corporate and philanthropic partners and residents. Public support from residents is important to the success of the project. The University of Kentucky's Unmanned Systems Research Consortium partnership provides drones operation and testing experience to implement our solution.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The primary beneficiaries are residents who will have safer neighborhoods and improved emergency medical response. Government first responders will benefit from the situational awareness drones will provide prior to their arrival at a location. The private sector (drones and gunshot detection technology platforms) will benefit from having an innovative new line of business to sell to cities.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

For non-catastrophic injuries, the lifesaving benefits of faster medical response are well-documented. Emergency personnel stabilize and transport injured person(s) to the University of Louisville Hospital Level I Trauma Center, one of two in the entire state and the only one in the city. However, improved medical response is only one tool to address gun violence. Multiple studies demonstrate that survivors and witnesses of gun violence are also at an increased risk of gun carrying and dying by homicide. Identifying and disrupting the spread of gun violence is the basis for the Pivot to Peace, No More Red Dots and Cure Violence initiatives in our city. Studies of the Cure Violence model in some other cities have demonstrated a 41-73% drop in shootings and homicides. Our own results have demonstrated some promising steps in the right direction as it relates to homicides and violent crime and we expect the drones to add to accelerate progress.

Challenges and Failures

City leadership can overcome technical and regulatory challenges, but success requires community partners. Even though many residents approve of fixed-position cameras, they have safety and privacy concerns when the cameras are on drones. Like many cities, we are working to strength relationships between the community and the police. In the absence of educational information, it is easy for residents to draw inaccurate conclusions. While residents want homicides to be solved to bring closure to families, they’re also frustrated with over-policing and want a focus on root causes. Despite local media coverage in newspapers, television and radio and on social media platforms, we continue to encounter residents who haven’t heard about the program. The success of the program will
require community outreach and first responder training to be incorporated continuously into the implementation.

Conditions for Success

Conditions for success include alignment with the strategic plan of governmental leadership, public support, integration into first responder methods, co-creation of public policy with the public and lawmakers, and authorization from governing bodies that regulate air space.

To test the impact of drones on first responders and the value of the video, we conducted roleplay, tabletop exercises that
included low and high-fidelity drone camera videos with 25 first responders and collected surveys. Higher fidelity tabletop exercises with richer scenarios need to be developed for testing with and training of first responders.

The success of the program will require community outreach and first responder training to be incorporated continuously into the implementation.


Many cities are seeing a spike in homicides and are turning to technology to help them address the challenge. Shotspotter, our gunshot detection technology platform vendor, is implemented in over 100 cities and there are regular reports of new cities procuring the technology. The demand for our idea since it became public has been overwhelming. The National League of Cities, National Science Foundation and over a dozen law enforcement agencies from across the country have reached out to learn more. One heartbreaking example occurred immediately after the Parkland, FL Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Residents from that community called, emailed and reached out through our webpage to see if it could be used to make schools safer. Over twenty drone vendors have contacted us to see if their technology is suitable. In June 2018, DJI and Axon, the Taser and body camera manufacturer, announced a partnership to offer drones linked to Axon's cloud-based evidence system.

Lessons Learned

It is a critical mistake to forgo public engagement. In May 2018, CBS13 in Sacramento, CA reported that the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency was flying drones over two nearby housing communities for patrol and surveillance. Resident input was not sought, and neighbors disapproved of the perceived invasion of privacy. One resident stated, “It just doesn’t feel good. It hovers around. You don’t know what they’re looking at and monitoring.” Even with public support, not all cities will immediately benefit from the program. Our proposal depends on established processes for monitoring, response and continuous community engagement.

The Real Time Crime Center and Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods are key components and should not be overlooked by another city in its adoption of the proposal. Lastly, the geography of the city, concentration of gunfire and location of an airport are important factors for success.

Supporting Videos

Year: 2018
Level of Government: Local government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

13 February 2018

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