On March 3, 2022, an explosion occurred at Friendly Garden Apartments on Lyttonsville Road in Silver Spring, MD, igniting a large-scale structure fire that injured 14 individuals and displaced an estimated 200 residents. As the fire consumed the four-story building, which ultimately resulted in a near total collapse of the structure, first responders on-scene deployed small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) to support information gathering and situational awareness to aid in rescue operations.
Over the past four years, Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS), and Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS) have partnered with the Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System to develop, deploy, and expand their sUAS capabilities. With a focus on information gathering and shared situational awareness, MDERS and Montgomery County collaborated to develop a systematic framework that provided the planning, training, and equipment necessary to support emergency response operations. The capabilities provided through MDERS, including sUAS platforms, peripheral accessories, software systems, and support equipment were heavily relied upon during the Lyttonsville Road incident.
MCPD and MCFRS utilized their sUAS platforms to live-stream a 360-degree view of the incident scene to the Incident Command Post (ICP). Through the DroneSense software, the Incident Commander and other responders were able to remotely access and view this secured, live footage to aid in time-sensitive decision making. MCPD, in coordination with MCFRS, utilized mounted thermal imaging devices to identify “hotspots” within the structure fire that aided the prioritization of fire suppression activities to critical locations within the apartment complex. Simultaneously, MCPD deployed a secondary sUAS platform to conduct mapping missions, supported by specialized software, intended to aid the investigation process. Throughout the entirety of the Lyttonsville Road response operations, MCPD utilized a specially outfitted Chevrolet Tahoe, provided through MDERS, equipped with spare parts, extra batteries, chargers, and specialized tools to support sUAS flight operations.
The Lyttonsville Road explosion and fire demonstrates the value of sUAS capabilities in emergency response operations. The continued implementation of sUAS capabilities within public safety agencies minimizes the risk of injury to responders while increasing situational awareness, allowing responding agencies to formulate an appropriate intervention in complex and evolving environments.