– Executive Summary –
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have evolved over the last century from rudimentary tethered balloons to electronically advanced aircraft that can be piloted using a cellular telephone. As a result of this evolution, the UAV has found its way into the field of emergency services and has proven itself as an advantageous tool in the first responder’s toolbox.
UAVs have been utilized experimentally during a variety of emergency responses, providing situational awareness for incident commanders on large-scale scenes and conducting reconnaissance at hazardous materials responses. Equipped with optical and infrared cameras, UAVs can search a wide area on land or over water for missing victims and can scan fire scenes for lingering hot spots. They also can provide video for real-time rapid needs assessments during large-scale natural disasters. In other emergencies, hazardous materials sensors have been attached to UAVs to measure the presence of toxic gases. Eventually, UAVs could be used to establish safety zones at hazardous materials scenes or to verify plume modeling for potential exposure. UAV applications will continue to develop as the technology improves.
While a UAV provides a range of uses, not every fire department needs to own a UAV asset. This research supported the creation of a shared service model for a UAV asset to avoid duplication of resources. Answering the following question was crucial: “Why shouldn’t every emergency service organization develop a UAV asset?” To assess the demand for the development of a shared service model, the author conducted a needs assessment. The author examined fire department responses for Hamilton County, Ohio, over a three-year period to assess the need for a UAV. The parameters of the study included fires over one hour of on-scene time, hazardous materials responses, and water emergencies. In addition to the city of Cincinnati Fire Department, which is the largest department in the county, only five of the 40 other fire departments would have met the criteria to use the UAV more than once a month.
Once the need for the creation of the shared service model was established, the research focused on the question: “Do shared service models exist that can be identified and applied to develop a regional unmanned aerial vehicle asset?” Additional issues addressed through the research include the management of risk and liability, the management of the public’s expectation of privacy, and the legislation and policies required for a shared service UAV asset.
Three emergency shared service models were identified and a policy analysis was conducted. The three models were the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council (SETRAC) Ambulance Bus (AMBUS), the Hamilton County Urban Search and Rescue (HCUSAR) Task Force, and the Southwestern Ohio Northern Kentucky Southeast Indiana (SOSINK) decontamination trailers and mass casualty trailers. The SETRAC AMBUS is a regional asset that provides transportation of patients from scenes of mass casualties to the hospital, and it can function as a stand-alone medical facility during a disaster. The HCUSAR Task Force provides technical rescue and search capabilities to Hamilton County and the surrounding region. HCUSAR is also the state of Ohio Region 6 collapse and rescue team. The SOSINK decontamination and mass casualty trailers serve the 12-county region and the city of Cincinnati.
The criteria for the policy analysis evaluation focused on five categories: structure of the organization, ownership and funding of the asset, unit staffing, the response of the asset, and risk and liability management. Each one of the five categories was further divided into subcategories to determine how they affect the shared service model. The models were ranked using a low, medium, and high scale, and received one, five or 10 points, respectively. Using the evaluation of the three shared service models, an analysis was conducted to select and apply the characteristics identified in the evaluation criteria to form recommendations for creating a shared service UAV asset. While none of the three models studied was optimal, a model can be created based on the recommendations of the evaluation.
The findings showed a need to identify a local governmental organization to provide responsive oversight to the asset. Nonprofit status for the organizing entity would also be beneficial to take full advantage of public and private donations.
Once a local governmental organization has been selected, a funding mechanism must be identified. The research showed the benefit of utilizing grant funding for the initial purchase of the asset; however, relying on grant funding for the maintenance and future sustainability of the asset can be tenuous.
Furthermore, it was determined that the UAV asset needs to be located with an emergency service to facilitate rapid response to the scene. Housing at least one of the assets in a large organization, such as a large municipal fire department, would be beneficial for resiliency, tactical reserve and consistency of the response of a UAV asset.
Flying a UAV comes with inherent risks. The management of risk and liability varied from each shared service model examined, but the research revealed sovereign immunity laws differ from state to state and that the ownership of the asset can also affect the applicability of sovereign immunity legislation. As such, organizations should research state laws where the UAV will be utilized to determine whether sovereign immunity will apply. In addition, a UAV asset can stir privacy concerns within a community. Therefore, it is recommended that privacy policies be developed that address the collection, retention, and the definition of approved users that is consistent with the expectations of privacy within the community. These policies must be in place prior to the creation of the asset.
Throughout the research, organizational policy of the shared service models was not always reduced to writing. The research recommended the development of policies that delineate the structure of the shared service and define the roles and responsibilities of the organization and administration as well as the expectations of the host agency. These policies must be documented and shared with all partners within the shared service agreement.
This research has demonstrated the need for a shared service UAV asset within Hamilton County, Ohio. By employing a shared service model with five UAVs, the county could save more than $1.5 million.