Chula Vista Police Drone as a First Responder (DFR)
Drone as a First Responder (DFR) is the new paradigm in emergency management that allows emergency personnel to view live video feeds of incidents before they arrive on the scene. The Chula Vista, CA Police Department (CVPD) routinely deploys drones to emergency calls and provides incident management and a live video feed to officers. This live video, or Decision Quality Data (DQD), gives first responders critical information to plan the best tactics and response to an emergency.
Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad have been criticized for poor tactics and training, especially during incidents resulting in the use of force or officer-involved shootings. This problem is made worse when responding officers do not have critical information prior to arriving at an incident. The lack of initial incident information is a hazard to officers, the public and to suspects.
The Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) provides local law enforcement services to a city of 270,000. CVPD officials realized that drones could provide critical information to responding officers if a drone could routinely respond to calls, arrive first, and stream live video of an evolving incident to police. CVPD partnered with Cape Aerial Telepresence, a drone software company, to pioneer and test the concept under the United States Federal Aviation Administration's UAS Integration Pilot Program (https://www.faa.gov/uas/programs_partnerships/integration_pilot_program/).
Starting in October 2018, CVPD has routinely launched drones to respond to emergency calls for service within 3 Nautical Miles (NM) of its 2 launch sites. The drones themselves are teleoperated and controlled via a standard desktop computer using Cape's technology. The Tele-Operator (T.O.) can maneuver the drone within a geo-fenced map which controls minimum and maximum altitudes, a geo-fenced perimeter, and geo-fenced obstacles. The technology can remotely operate a Cape enabled drone anywhere in the world from a standard desktop computer and internet connection.
The technology enables the drone to fly in a geo-fenced flight envelope, making it extremely safe. There is still a visual observer at each launch site, a Pilot in Command (PIC), to scan the airspace for aerial threats and to maintain the drone, but the T.O. maneuvers the drone to respond to the scene and acts as an incident coordinator by directing resources over standard emergency radios to the first responders, including police and firefighters, below. CVPD is a leading FAA IPP testing site with a proven track record of flight safety and community impact and one of the first permitted to be authorized to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).
Operating 4 days a week, CVPD currently launches drones from two fixed locations, and the T.O., who is scanning Live911 calls, can select the drone closest to a given incident. The drones typically arrive between 2-3 minutes from launch, often beating ground units. The department's two commercial drones are equipped with a 30x zoom camera, giving it powerful zoom capability. The T.O. can fly the drone, operate the camera, Livestream the video to responding officers and help support and direct their actions via radio. Up to 50 first responders can watch the live video on their smartphones, giving them real-time situational awareness to plan the best operational response and tactics before arriving on the scene.
In law enforcement, front line officers are often the least experienced personnel. DFR allows supervisors, managers, and other leaders to observe the response and make corrections or re-prioritize resources in real-time. DFR is a game-changing innovation because the drone provides Decision Quality Data (DQD) via live-streamed video. This DQD can inform first responders earlier, thus allowing them to adjust tactics and bring to bear appropriate resources. Ideally, this would include the ability to de-escalate scenes by tailoring tactics and approaches to mitigate threats.
With over 1,075 missions, CVPD has become the lighthouse agency for the pioneering use of drones in a whole new manner - proactively and routinely vs. reactively and intermittently. CVPD has demonstrated use cases where DFR has improved officer safety, community safety, and even the safety of suspects because officers have better information and can use better tactics and less force.
The United States has over 18,000 State, Local, Tribal and Territorial law enforcement agencies but only around 200 have manned helicopter programs, each of which is extremely expensive to maintain. Even in large agencies, helicopters are too expensive to send to routine incidents. DFR opens up aerial response and real-time video to all emergency services agencies at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, the cost is so low, that even the smallest agencies could afford to implement a version of the program in their community. Finally, CVPD's program has been replicated by the Tijuana, MX and Mexico City, MX police departments, showing that it can also be replicated internationally to improve public safety.
CVPD is expanding the program and working with the FAA and the UAS industry and technology partners to standardize and make the program scalable to almost any agency. CVPD leaders have presented the program to leading national law enforcement agencies, UAS conferences, and technology groups. DFR is the proven new paradigm in emergency incident management.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The remote piloting, geo-fencing and pro-active use of drones to respond to emergencies in a proactive way are entirely unique in public safety. CVPD officials pioneered the concept of Drone as a First Responder and did the research and committed resources to successfully implement drones into routine patrol operations. CVPD is the only law enforcement agency in the Federal Aviation Administration's UAS Integration Pilot Program and has been described as the best drone program of its kind in the U.S. The program has been replicated in two cities in Mexico and many U.S. agencies are actively looking to model CVPD's program. This paradigm shift allows agencies of all sizes to incorporate drones proactively into emergency operations rather than in the aftermath of an incident. Having drones to provide real-time video and information helps first responders plan better, including the deployment of appropriate resources and the use of the best tactics for a given incident.
What is the current status of your innovation?
CVPD's DFR Program is over a year old and has flown almost 1,100 incident and accident-free missions in support of emergency calls. The program has proven that a drone can be used to routinely respond to emergencies, arrive first on the scene, and to provide live video feeds to ground units before they arrive so they can plan the best response. The remote operation (teleoperation) of the drone, allows the teleoperator to serve as an incident manager, assess the incident, direct resources and more safely manage the scene. The program has resulted in 147 arrests with the drone assisting or present and has proven to be a valuable de-escalation tool for officers. DFR is the most innovative de-escalation tool available because it gives first responders real-time information, thus allowing them to employ the best tactics, tools, and resources for a given incident. CVPD officials have been asked to present the program nationally and internationally to law enforcement and UAS groups.
Collaborations & Partnerships
United States Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration - Administering the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP): https://www.faa.gov/uas/programs_partnerships/integration_pilot_program/
City of San Diego office of Homeland Security - Lead SDIPP Coordinating Agency
City of Chula Vista Police Department - Testing site under the SDIPP- DFR
Cape Aerial Telepresence - Lead Technology Partner
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The FAA leads the Integration Pilot Program to integrate commercial drones into the National Air Space (NAS). The San Diego Consortium, including CVPD, was chosen as one of ten testing sites nationally. CVPD partnered with the SDIPP and Cape to pilot the Drone as a First Responder concept. Citizens of Chula Vista, other law enforcement agencies and other emergency services providers have also benefited as the program has improved response and tactics. The program is nationally recognized.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
To Date, CVPD has flown over 1,077 missions in support of emergency calls. It has resulted in 146 arrests and has been first on the scene to 482 calls for service. The average response time is 172 seconds, well under the average ground response time. The program demonstrated that drones can be used to clear about 20% of calls without sending ground units, keeping them available for higher priority calls.
On incidents where drones and ground units are both deployed, the drone arrives on an average of 7:07 minutes faster on Priority 2 calls (urgent) and an average of 3:39 minutes faster on Priority 1 calls (emergency). The live video and incident command support provided to first responders has proven to help increase officer safety, public safety and suspect safety. It also helps inform supervisors and managers so they can provide the appropriate resources and guidance to field units. The technology is more affordable than manned helicopters and can be replicated by small agencies.
Challenges and Failures
The program faced some technical problems initially, but most have been overcome. The program has been challenging with existing resources because it was entirely new and there was a lot of trial and error to get it off the ground. The program has been funded by salary savings but will require long-term commitment to sustain. There are some inefficiencies due to current FAA regulations, in that there is a visual observer (pilot in command on the roof) that is required for safety. Technological advances will eventually allow for airspace awareness without the need for a visual observer, but that will take some time to develop. The purpose of the FAA IPP and CVPD's efforts is to prove the worth of the DFR program and explore technologies to make it sustainable and reproducible by others. DFR's proven effectiveness to date has spurred national and international interest and major technology companies have shown an interest in refining and marketing the concept.
Conditions for Success
The continued success of the concept and the ability to replicate it to scale nationally and internationally will require continued refinement of flight safety rules in coordination with the FAA along with regulatory change. The program has robust internal organizational support and guidance, and CVPD actively promotes and shares its success stories and operational advice with other agencies. CVPD will require additional funding to sustain the program in the short to mid-term, especially until technology automates processes and drives down costs. The program has been embraced by the local community, which generally supports the police and public safety. CVPD is working with the CV Fire Dept. to expand DFR's impact as a true multi-disciplinary platform that can be adopted by a wide range of first responders and emergency managers. There is extraordinary interest in the emergency services sector, which must be leveraged to encourage large scale adoption of the concept.
The concept has been replicated by police agencies in Tijuana, MX and Mexico City, MX with considerable success. These agencies have fewer regulatory barriers and lower labor costs, which lowered barriers to entry and implementation of the technology and concept. CVPD's groundbreaking work has garnered national and international attention, with multiple agencies touring CVPD facilities and requesting information and assistance. CVPD has been extremely transparent by sharing almost all program details on its public website, along with real-time data on operations. This concept shows tremendous potential to be replicated nationally and internationally. Perhaps most importantly, its relatively low cost (compared to manned helicopters) makes it an ideal platform for almost any small, mid-size and large agency to leverage the technology to improve public safety and emergency management. While further refinements are necessary, the concept will be a paradigm shift in public safety.
In just over one year, CVPD has demonstrated that DFR is one of the most important advances in public safety technology history. The low cost, relatively simple technology, can be implemented by agencies of almost any size if they have a reasonable infrastructure, such as internet and cell service to share the video with first responders. This program is scalable nationally and internationally and can be easily replicated.
Chula Vista police officers routinely have access to live video of emergency calls before they arrive on the scene. This allows them to plan the best tactics and response in order to effectively manage the incident. This is the first step toward de-escalation and successful incident management and resolution. It also improves officer safety, public safety and suspect safety. Officers now routinely ask for drone support on hazardous calls or calls with limited information so they can plan the best response. This means the technology can be fully integrated into routine operations. This changes drone use from reactive and intermittent to proactive and routine.
The technology can also be used by fire departments, search and rescue, and EMS personnel to evaluate and effectively deploy resources to a given emergency. This will improve response times, keep critical resources available for other incidents and help supervisors and managers with better strategic deployment and resource management, especially when there are several competing incidents.
Getting real-time intelligence via DFR video is a game-changer in emergency services. Police departments and fire departments of the future will routinely use DFR to plan and inform their response. This will improve safety services and improve outcomes for the public. It will also improve efficiency and resource deployment, thereby saving precious tax dollars, especially if resources are held in reserve for higher priority calls because managers can tailor resources exactly to incident needs.
Chula Vista is a small to a mid-size city without specialized technology or depth of expertise. In other words, Chula Vista is an "average" city. This is important because innovation is not being led by large cities or places with a history of cutting edge technology. The program was conceived as a problem-solving program and prototyped and implemented within the confines of a humble municipal government looking to improve service. Additionally, CVPD has been completely transparent and open about its program and its intent, thus it has garnered full public support. Many agencies have not been transparent about the use of drones and have faced stiff opposition. CVPD's methodical public outreach, transparency and willingness to share its story with others is a model for other public safety agencies.
For more info please visit our website: https://www.chulavistaca.gov/departments/police-department/programs/uas-drone-program