Building small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) Capability in the Maryland-National Capital Region

Situational awareness is a critical priority for emergency response partners in the Maryland-National Capital Region. Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) provides an aerial viewpoint of an incident in an efficient and effective manner without the use of costly standard aviation resources such as helicopters that can be easily managed at an agency level. sUAS assists incident commanders in gathering information to assist decision making at complex incidents. In recent years, the utilization of sUAS, often referred to as drones, has become prevalent in many areas of the United States to support emergency responders.

In addition to situational awareness, many sUAS platforms provide the capability for a variety of specific operations to include explosive detection, night vision, radiological detection, thermal imaging, search and rescue operations, and damage assessment.

In late 2018, Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System (MDERS) began the sUAS capability development planning process with stakeholder agencies in Montgomery County following several high-profile incidents where an sUAS capability could have played a substantive role in the response. This planning process consisted of initiating capability development plan, developing policies and procedures, identifying training opportunities, developing operations manuals, and purchasing necessary equipment to meet agency needs. This process was expanded to include Prince George’s County agencies in 2019. Due to the regulations surrounding federal grant funding, each agency’s policy and equipment purchases must be submitted and approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prior to the purchase of any equipment.

As of June 2020, the sUAS capability has been operationalized by the Montgomery County Police Department, and the Prince George’s County Police Department is actively procuring sUAS equipment to begin their sUAS program.

Both the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service have submitted their policies and equipment justification lists and are currently awaiting future approval to being procurement to operationalize their sUAS programs.

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