SUMMARY: The federal Emergency Management Performance Grant can be a good source of funding for municipalities looking to start a unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program. However, funding is just the first step to developing a safe and successful drone program for first responders.
PROBLEM: Stillwater, Oklahoma recognized drones as a promising new tool to help conduct life-safety missions and assess damage from natural disasters such as tornados and wildfires. However, starting a UAS program can be a costly endeavor for smaller communities with tight budgets.
SOLUTION: Through the State of Oklahoma, the City of Stillwater applied for an Emergency Management Performance Grant from the federal government. Through this grant, the Stillwater Emergency Management Agency was able to secure funding to purchase their first UAS in mid-2015. They have since purchased two more.
Rob Hill, Director of SEMA, says the agency has two flight teams which never work more than a 12-hour shift. Each team is comprised of a pilot-in-command and a visual observer. Hill says the teams can be deployed in support of law enforcement or fire rescue missions in less than 30 minutes.