State and local governments face a complicated landscape for drones this year. Drone sales to states and localities are up, according to reports, but agencies are shifting how they spend that money.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 banned the use of any Chinese drones, including the popular brand DJI, by the U.S. Department of Defense and its contractors. Federal officials say the drones pose an unacceptable national security risk, as the Chinese government may collect surveillance data from the drones.
Bard College once estimated that 90 percent of drones in use by American public safety agencies were DJI drones, but many state and local governments have followed in the footsteps of the NDAA to ban the use of those drones by government agencies. Arkansas recently passed a law prohibiting the purchases of drones from “covered foreign entities,” directing the state’s law enforcement agencies to stop using their foreign-made drones within four years.
Florida was among the more proactive states in banning foreign drone purchases by government agencies starting Jan. 1, 2022. The state issued an approved manufacturer list for drones purchases, permitting drone sales from only five companies. The law directed agencies to stop using any unapproved drones by this past Jan. 1.
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Drone Sales Increase in the Face of Public Safety Demand
Still, drones sales were up last year. Deltek recently reported that drones are on the upswing in state and local government purchasing. According to Deltek, bids and requests for proposals for robots and drones increased to 555 in 2022, up from 430 in 2021.
Public safety agencies deploy drones for a wide range of uses. Firefighting and law enforcement turn to drones in dangerous situations such as bomb squad activities and surveillance. “We have replaced people with robots or nonhumans, not to furlough the job but to really tackle dangerous situations,” Deltek Research Manager Paul Irby said in a January presentation.
READ MORE: How municipalities are applying smart city tech to enhance safety.
According to the National League of Cities, drones can “revolutionize” municipal services. “There are many applications for drones within the public sector at the local and state level. Drones can be used for law enforcement and firefighting, as rural ambulances, and for inspections, environmental monitoring and disaster management,” the association notes.
In 2020, The Federal Aviation Administration established a four-year program called BEYOND to partner with state and local governments to study drone flights and their potential benefits to U.S. communities. The eight participants in the program include the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; Kansas Department of Transportation; Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority in Tennessee; Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership in Virginia; North Carolina Department of Transportation; North Dakota Department of Transportation; City of Reno, Nev.; and University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Regarding public safety, Reno reported significant benefits from the Reno Fire Department’s deployment of drones for search and rescue, and North Dakota has embraced the use of drones in infrastructure inspections.
Cites, in Particular, Embrace Drones for Many Uses
State and local agencies depend on drones for a wide range of uses where they not only safeguard lives but also extend the reach of operators.
Federal, state and local authorities cooperated in the use of drones to monitor public safety at the Super Bowl in Phoenix on Feb. 12. These drones were able to cover more ground than officers alone to ensure the safety of roughly 68,000 people in attendance.
The Chula Vista Police Department in California runs an advanced drone program that sends out unmanned aircraft systems in response to 911 calls. In 2021, the city obtained FAA authorization to launch drones from anywhere in the city, extending the range of emergency operations for UAS systems.
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The CVPD’s concept of operations “is called Drone as First Responder (DFR), and it is a transformational method of policing that has demonstrated the ability to increase officer and community safety and reduce overall police response times,” according to the department.
Utility companies use drones to inspect infrastructure to fulfill regulatory requirements but also to ensure everything is in proper working order and shows no sign of stress.
As states and localities continue to navigate the drone marketplace, demands undoubtedly will grow over the next several years as agencies expand use cases for UAS systems.
This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.