The Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System (MDERS) accepted the 2023 Response Project of the Year Award for the small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) program on behalf of the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS), and Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS). This award was received at the Maryland Emergency Management Association (MDEMA) Symposium recognizing the effective deployment of the sUAS capability to enhance rescue operations.
Over the past four years, MCPD, MCFRS, and OEMHS have partnered with MDERS to develop, utilize, and expand their sUAS capabilities. By focusing on improving information gathering and situational awareness, MDERS and Montgomery County public safety agencies collaborated to establish a systematic framework that provided the planning, training, and equipment imperative to bolstering emergency response procedures. The capabilities of sUAS aid in capturing essential information and maintaining shared situational awareness among public safety agencies to formulate appropriate response measures in evolving environments.
As an illustration, the explosion and fire occurring at the Friendly Garden Apartments on Lyttonsville Road in Silver Spring, MD, exhibits the value of sUAS capabilities in emergency response operations. MCPD and MCFRS utilized their sUAS platforms to identify structural damages, locate victims, and determine critical locations within the apartment complex. Implementing sUAS capabilities minimized the risk of injury to first responders upon entering the collapsed structure to engage in fire suppression activities. MCPD, in collaboration with MCFRS, shared a live-stream view of the incident scene that strengthened their ability to devise rescue strategies, conduct a damage assessment, and investigate the cause of the fire.
Members of MDEMA recognized that the sUAS capability enhanced the overall response operations of Montgomery County public safety agencies by managing the detrimental effects of the Lyttonsville Road explosion and fire incident. Thus, the sUAS capability was awarded MDEMA’s Response Project of the Year because of the advantages provided to public safety.
The following are remarks from all stakeholders involved in the success of the sUAS capability:
Senior Emergency Response Specialist Hannah Thomas, MDERS
- “It was an honor to accept this award on behalf of the Montgomery County public safety agencies. I have enjoyed working with these agencies throughout the past two years on developing their sUAS programs. The Montgomery County public safety agencies’ work with their sUAS technology is inspiring. I was honored to accept this award on their behalf.”
Lieutenant Victor Galladora, MCPD
- “One big takeaway for me from this was how important the work group was leading up to this incident. Working together with Chief Hinkle (and Fire/Rescue in general) prior to the explosion was a major advantage. Knowing this was a major incident, we responded with the sUAS capability. Upon checking in with Chief Hinkle the day of the incident, he was already well aware of our capabilities, personnel and equipment. He immediately approved the sUAS operation, which I am not sure would have happened without the work group and prior coordination.”
Captain Shelley Wheeler, MCFRS
- “The biggest takeaway is the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Thanks to the relationship between MDERS, MCFRS, and MCPD, we gained an invaluable resource to help with planning the best way to approach a complicated situation in a manner that led to an efficient, effective response that involved multiple agencies working together.”
Mitchell Dinowitz, OEMHS
- “The use of the sUAS for the Lyttonsville building explosion was crucial to allow the command team to make real-time decisions and direct tactical resources. The use of streaming software, that was able to be purchased through the ERS mechanism, made the transmission of the situational awareness from the incident to the command post and other county public safety leaders that needed to view this information possible. Since this incident, additional agencies (beyond police) have been able to acquire this streaming software to stream live incidents into the incident command posts, or the Emergency Operations Center. The collaboration of this workgroup and its partners has led to a close-knit team which can call upon each other’s resources and experiences with each respective sUAS project to help each agency move forward.”
MDERS is proud to work with Montgomery County public safety agencies to improve various response capabilities in the National-Capital Region (NCR). More importantly, MDERS looks forward to further expanding the sUAS capability in Montgomery County in preparation for future complex incidents.