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Vermont University & FEMA Provide Drone Training For Public Safety

In a recent post here at CleanTechnica, I covered an online panel the FAA held about best practices for public safety personnel (whom they incorrectly called “first responders”). It was a very informative event, and anybody looking to create a drone program for police, fire, or emergency management should seriously check it out. Today, we have another bit of news about “first responders” and drone programs that sheds some more light on what the panelists were talking about.

This week, the University of Vermont’s Spatial Analysis Lab hosted a FEMA-funded initiative that provided drone training to fifteen emergency-response jobs in the state. On campus and in the lab, two days were spent learning about UAS technology, flying drones, and analyzing drone-collected data from firefighting, emergency management, search and rescue, and agriculture and natural resource professionals.

“This training session will give emergency managers and first responders like me the ability to employ drone technology to address critical issues in emergency response,” Lee Krohn, volunteer firefighter and town manager of Shelburne told Vermont Business. “From responding to structure fires to search and rescue operations, drones provide a means by which to improve response and recovery efforts. I am excited to learn skills that help me, and my fellow first responders reduce risk and be more effective in our jobs. UVM has been a leader in drone technology for the past decade. I am glad to be learning from this experienced team.”

Because of its ASSURE Core Member status, the project received significant backing from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and may be carried out at UVM. The FEMA first responder training project is being handled by the ASSURE Center of Excellence for UAS Research, which serves as the project’s lead.

“Technology is playing an increasingly important role in disaster response and recovery. I was pleased to support funding that will bolster the work of the University of Vermont, which is leading the way in the Northeast, in partnership with Vermont Technical College, to support the FAA and ASSURE. This is critical research and development that will help Vermont’s first responders to save lives and give Vermont businesses access to cutting edge drone technology,” said Leahy.

The key new thing we learned about this came from a quote from a university official:

“Our role as a public institution is to serve as a partner to and resource for the state of Vermont,” said UVM Vice President for Research Kirk Dombrowski. “We are proud to work alongside first responder personnel and value the generous support of Senator Leahy, whose recognition of the importance of advanced emergency response procedures made this program possible. We are eager to continue leveraging our innovative Spatial Analysis Lab to make state of the art technology accessible to our Vermont partners.”

The Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont houses the UVM Spatial Analysis Lab. The lab has expanded considerably in recent years, teaching and employing nearly 40 students and employees. In fall 2021, UVM attained ASSURE Core Member status as a result of the Spatial Analysis Lab’s demonstrated excellence in UAS research throughout and beyond Vermont.

Government Isn’t The Only Resource For Public Safety Agencies

I think the key thing we need to think about here is that, like other fields in public safety, research needs to be a part of the process for developing best practices.

In some ways, this reminds me of a silly quote by Will Rogers that has some real wisdom in it:

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Trying to start a program all by yourself is probably the best way to get that jolting electric fence experience. Trying anything new, and you’ll definitely make mistakes, but the less you try to learn before starting, the more mistakes you’ll make. If we’re a little smarter, we can learn from the experience of others, and that’s definitely preferable to making mistakes for yourself, but that doesn’t mean the others you learn from are totally done making mistakes.

Ideally, we’d learn from reading, and we learn from reading because somebody does the studying to do the writing. While you’ll see the odd blog post from an experienced professional with that insight, you’ll probably see a lot more from researchers, who’ve learned from a variety of sources.

I understand that not everyone has gone to college (which is perfectly fine), but the more you’ve done there, the more you realize that research isn’t always some ivory tower that’s disconnected from the reality “on the ground.” Many research projects are based on the experience (and the mistakes) of dozens or hundreds of teams of first responders, and what could be more relevant than that? Someone just needs to collect and analyze all of that knowledge, distill it, and serve it.

Beyond knowledge collected from the field, researchers are in a good position to see where a field is going, what new technology developments will affect it, and otherwise try to predict the future a bit. So, between their opportunity to analyze data from real world experience and their skill in analyze things not (yet) happening in the field, they can help keep you from making as many mistakes that nobody has had a chance to make yet.

So, Be Sure To Reach Out To Universities, Researchers, & Analysts

Beyond what the panelists at the FAA recommended, which was to reach out to fellow public safety personnel and the federal government, it’s a good idea to reach into academia and get more information. Not only would they probably have some good information you can use in the field, but you’d also be able to feed them information that gives them the ability to learn about drones in the field more.

On top of the knowledge side of things, being able to say that you got information and maybe even training from someone with a higher degree in a relevant field can also help with liability (another big problem in public safety). So, there’s little excuse to not reach out.

Featured Image by DJI.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things:


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