DRONES IN PUBLIC SAFETY: First responders get hands-on experience at new statewide drone conference

A first responder navigated a drone across a lake in Cobb County, zeroing in on a reported suspicious vehicle.

He radioed back to the mobile command center, “We have located the vehicle in the southwest corner of the lake, standby for further.” 

The command center cleared the pilot. He then steered the drone towards a boat and spotted a missing child.

“I can see the little baby leaning up against [the boat],” the pilot said.

And by baby, he meant baby doll. 

The search and rescue mission was part of a new drone training conference for public safety agencies statewide. More than 100 pilots lifted off from Jim R. Miller Park in GEMA and FEMA’s two-day event, participating in exercises ranging from obstacle courses to barricaded gunmen scenarios.​

​“This is a pretty new technology, and the only way we’re going to get better is to understand what works and what doesn't work,” said Lt. Brett Ries with Cobb County Fire and Rescue. “We're relying on each other’s' experience and really taking that and moving forward with it.”

On top of using the drone's camera, many agencies also utilize thermal imaging technology, which allows first responders to see more than you can with the naked eye. This really comes in handy during searches for missing people, suspects and hot spots in fires, according to officials.

Last month, the technology helped tame a multi-day large fire in Cobb County. The FOX 5 drone team was also there as firefighters used drones to evaluate the size of the blaze and find hot spots.​​

“To be able to get a helicopter out there is very involved, whereas we can just put it up in a matter of minutes and get what we need to and bring it down,” said Ries.

From saving precious time and money to adding a layer of safety for first responders, many authorities agree, drones are an important addition to their tool box.​​

“Being able to do this in a location where so many officers so many firefighters can come together at once is unique in Georgia and something we want to continue to do for years to come,” said Jason Ritter, GEMA’s drone program manager.

FEMA officials told FOX 5 the southeastern U.S. is really on the forefront of providing drone training opportunities like this for public safety.