As it wants to modernize its operations, the Los Angeles Fire Department is turning to a number of brand-new technologies, including expanding its fleet of drones for a multitude of brand-new deployments.
Among the biggest fire departments in the U.S., next to New york city and Chicago, the LAFD has a budget plan of roughly $691 million, utilizes more than 3,500 and responded to 492,717 calls in 2018.
The department already has a fleet of 11 drones to complement its fleet of 258 fire engines, ambulances and helicopters.
However, Battalion Chief Richard Fields, the head of the department’s Unmanned Aerial Systems program, want to see that number boost significantly.
Los Angeles has become an early leader in making use of drones for its firefighting applications thanks in part to an agreement with the Chinese business DJI, which the department inked back in April.
At the time, the Chinese drone manufacturer and imaging innovation designer announced a contract to test and deploy DJI drones as an emergency response readiness tool. The business called it one DJI’s biggest collaborations with a fire-fighting firm in the U.S.
” We are thrilled to be reinforcing our collaboration with the LAFD, among the country’s preeminent public security firms, to help them benefit from DJI’s drone technology that has been purpose-built for the general public safety sector,” stated Costs Chen, Business Collaborations manager at DJI, in a declaration at the time. “Through our two-way partnership, DJI will receive valuable insight into the complexities of releasing drones for emergency situations in one of the most complex metropolitan environments in the nation.”
Now, approximately five months later, the program seems to have achieved success enough that Battalion Chief Fields is wanting to double the fleet.
” Our next model is to start utilizing our drones to help our specialized resources,” stated Fields. Those are firemens and assistance teams that handle harmful products, metropolitan search and rescue, marine environments and swift water rescues, Fields stated.
The technologal demands of the fire department extend beyond the drone itself, Fields said. “There are a lot of innovations that enables us to make the drone more flexible … the most valuable tool isn’t the drone; it’s the sensing unit.”
Up until now, the most useful application has actually been utilizing infrared innovations to stabilize what’s visible and integrate it with the heat signatures the sensors select up.
Training to end up being a drone pilot for the LAFD is especially extreme, Fields states. The common pilot will get up to 80 hours of training. “Our training is nation-leading. There’s nothing out there in the business market that beats it,” according to Fields.
For now, the entire LAFD fleet is made up of DJI drones, something that has provided military and civilian officials pause in the past couple of years.
Issues have been growing over the reliance on Chinese innovation in core American facilities, extending from networking technology business like Huawei to drone technology developers like DJI.
Back in 2018, the Department of Defense released a ban on the acquisition and usage of business drones, citing cybersecurity vulnerabilities. The ban came a year after officials from the Department of Homeland Security and members of Congress called out DJI particularly for its potential to be used by the Chinese government to spy on the United States.
However, the guideline isn’t set in stone, and numerous branches of the military continue to utilize DJI drones, according to a September Voice of America Report
In Los Angeles, Fields states he takes those concerns seriously. The department has actually worked closely with regulators and advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to craft a rigorous policy around what gets finished with the data the LAFD collects.
” The manner in which we develop our program is that the drone provides us with our real-time situational awareness,” stated Fields. “That assists the event commander get a visual perspective of the problem and he can make much better decisions.”
The only information that is tape-recorded and kept, says Fields, is information gathered around brush fires so the LAFD can do a damage control, which can later be turned into map layers to keep records of hotspots.
When it comes to information that might be returned to China, Fields says that any mapping of vital facilities is done without connecting to the web. “It’s being gathered on the drone and 90%of that information is how the drone is running. There is some information of where the drone is and how it is and the [latitude] and [longitude] of the drone itself … That’s the information that’s being gathered,” Fields states.
From Fields’ perspective, if the federal government is so concerned about making use of drones made by a foreign maker, there’s an easy option. Just manage it.
” Let’s develop a standard. If you use them in a federal airspace these are the check marks that you need to pass,” he states. “Saying that DJI drones are bad since they originate from China [and] let’s toss them all out … that’s not a response either.”