In 2018, the Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System Steering Committee identified small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) as a funding priority for capability development. To achieve this capability for the public safety agencies in Montgomery County, Maryland, a workgroup was established consisting of representatives from the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS), and the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (OEMHS). This provided collaboration opportunities for policy development, equipment specification, and the coordination of future training.
MCPD was the first agency to work through internal processes to implement a policy and achieve the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) approval to purchase equipment: a required step for the purchase of any sUAS utilizing federal grant funds. Following approval of the policy, the department purchased various equipment and began its program.
The group continued to gain momentum in 2020, with MCFRS and OEMHS gaining FEMA approval. Both agencies then began the process of procuring equipment. All three agencies are actively crafting and implementing training programs to operationalize sUAS operations for emergency response throughout Montgomery County.
To add to the complexity of this project, a majority of Montgomery County falls within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) around Washington, D.C. The public safety agencies within this zone must work with the FAA to obtain waivers that allow them to operate sUAS within this airspace. To date, MCPD has already received a waiver, leading the way for other agencies within their jurisdiction.
As of Spring 2021, all three agencies are now working with the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), a federal entity headquartered in Montgomery County. NIST personnel have been collaborating with public safety agencies nationwide to assist with training and mobilization of sUAS programs. Specifically, NIST provides a scalable, quantifiable framework for operator training, which the agencies are working to implement as part of their pilot training programs.