NFPA awarded FEMA funds to develop free public safety drone compliance program for the fire service


The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), has received just shy of a million dollars in Fire Prevention and Safety Grant money from FEMA to develop a free public safety drone compliance program that includes educational training and a searchable knowledgebase that tracks fire service drone programs and usage.

Fire departments have rapidly expanded the use of drones as more communities have realized the lifesaving impact that aerial technology can have in response to structural fires, wildland firefighting, search and rescue efforts, hazardous material responses, natural disaster efforts, and any other events that would benefit from increased situational awareness.

Although drone safety policies and standards continue to evolve, many U.S. fire departments are without the proper information, knowledge, and experience needed to establish and maintain a legally sound public safety program that is compliant with FAA regulations, and the standards produced by ASTM InternationalNational Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and NFPA. Without proper understanding of how to integrate drones into public safety efforts, fire departments may deploy unmanned aerial devices inaccurately; may inappropriately gather information during an incident; and may interfere with manned and unmanned flight operations in the area. All these missteps needlessly expose fire departments to liability.

The NFPA drone project will generate the guidance, learnings, and best practices that U.S. fire departments need to establish a compliant, successful drone program by:

  1. assessing the current level of understanding, policies, and standards on public safety drone usage;
  2. developing a drone program framework, including resources, education, and an accessible portal which allows departments to comply with current regulations and standards;
  3. tracking fire service drone programs and their relevant use cases; and
  4. freely disseminating essential information and training so that departments can establish regionally and nationally compliant public safety drone programs.

The new initiative will follow the successful NFPA Emerging Technologies training development and dissemination model that has been in effect since 2010.

  1. The Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, will begin by performing a literature review of the fire service drone landscape and collecting compliance and usage data.
  2. NFPA will then collaborate with subject matter experts at the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting at the State of Colorado, Department of Fire Services to conduct a comprehensive review of the latest public safety drone usage research, testing, regulations, policy, and training content.
  3. The Research Foundation will convene a technical advisory panel consisting of fire authorities, standards developers, public safety officials, emergency managers, researchers, regulators, and government leaders to advise on the project’s scope, messaging, curriculum, and deliverables.
  4. The NFPA data and analytics team will synthesize the collected information to support curriculum development efforts and populate the portal.
  5. The Research Foundation will host a public safety drone workshop for interested stakeholders and findings will be distributed.
  6. Public safety drone subject matter experts and curriculum developers will build a self-paced, interactive online training program, educational videos, and immersive augmented virtual reality tools as part of a full educational suite. The curriculum will cover proper administration, operation, safety, and maintenance of public safety drone deployment.
  7. All materials, research, and information collected as part of this project will be available for free to U.S. firefighters on the NFPA website.
  8. The NFPA data team will build a freely accessible online repository for all information captured, and host all deliverables on a dedicated, interactive, searchable web portal so that departments can upload and search drone action incident reports.

“As we have seen with NFPA alternative fuel vehicle and energy storage system training, the fire service is eager to learn about emerging technologies that may present new hazards, or in this case, help to mitigate and monitor safety challenges,” said Christian Dubay, P.E., NFPA vice president and chief engineer. “The new educational resources and portal will help fire departments across the country confidently establish and maintain public safety drone programs.” 

In 2018, NFPA released NFPA 2400 Standard for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems to help the fire service address organizational deployment, professional qualifications, system selection, as well as care and maintenance for public safety drone programs. The new NFPA drone research project will begin in fall 2019, with deliverables expected to be completed by September 2021.