New drone program launched in Georgia to innovate emergency response


The Ray, a net-zero highway testbed in the US, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Troup County, and drone manufacturer Skydio have announced a new safety collaboration to develop a “drone as a first responder” (DFR) program along Interstate 85.

The goal of the new initiative is to enhance safety and emergency response capabilities in the entire West Georgia region, a rural area which hosts multiple key interstate corridors. Interstates 85, 185 and 75 provide critical freight connectivity for major Southeast manufacturing and logistics facilities.

The collaboration includes Troup County’s Marshal Office and the county fire department, which recently received Skydio drones and training as technology donations from The Ray. Commonly referred to as “first eyes on the scene,” drones piloted on site or remotely transmit photos and videos captured overhead of an incident and provide key situational awareness to police, fire, public health, and other stakeholder agencies.

DFR programs have helped agencies that are responsible for public safety and emergency management improve efficiency, response times, and overall emergency services in a variety of jurisdictions across the country. In Georgia, DFR is enabled and regularly deployed by the City of Brookhaven. Troup County will be the nation’s first local government in a rural region to acquire and train on the equipment and operationalize the technology.

“Drones acting as first responders bring critical capability for crisis and emergency management and are already deployed across the country in small, medium and large communities, including Chula Vista, in California and Brookhaven in Georgia,” said Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray. “In the near future, we hope to grow the [Troup County] operation into a cost-efficient program that can offer remote operation of drones as a first responder to interstates 85, 185 and surrounding West Georgia counties.”

The partnership is preparing to apply for the second round of awards from the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grant Program. If successful, Troup County intends to acquire remote operations equipment, additional training, and pursue Federal Aviation Administration authorizations to engage in DFR operations. This will enable the county to build a functional DFR program that relies on remote operations and future autonomous drone operations.

To help launch the initiative, The Ray donated two Skydio drones to Troup County, and has provided the county with training resources through Skydio. The training sessions will equip Troup County drone pilots with the necessary skills and knowledge to operate the drones safely and effectively. Currently, Troup County has a limited drone program with four trained pilots and one basic drone in use.

The county lacks a comprehensive program that allows trained pilots to incorporate drones into their regular emergency response activities. Through the support of The Ray and Skydio, Troup County is on the cusp of establishing a formal drone program, complete with a trained team and verified hours of operation.

The real-life scenario is similar to one predicted in TTi magazine back in July 2015…

Image: MagicTorch

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