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Wireless Technologies

UK: Drones rules for emergency services don't apply

Commercial drone use within the UK is very closely regulated; any commercial efforts require permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), strict safety regulations must be met, there are strict rules about where you can fly and when, and pilots must ”demonstrate pilot competence”. It seems, however, these rules fail to apply to emergency services.

Speaking at the Commercial UAV Show in London, Andy Cashmore, Station Commander at West Midlands Fire Service, and Dawn Huckson, Runway Protection Team, Gatwick Operations Department, Sussex Police, both revealed how they use drones within their roles for the emergency services.

West Midlands Fire Service has been using drones to help assess dangerous situations for several years, and wants to expand that to include indoor reconnaissance and the ability to scan smoke plumes.  Gatwick Airport’s Runway Protection Team has used drones for security patrols of the airport’s borders, as well as conducting tests for search and rescue, tracking suspects and crime scene photography and incident overviews.

When asked by the audience about whether emergency services have to follow the same stringent rules as commercial entities, and whether this could put potential commercial UAV activities in danger, both admitted that because emergency services have legal power over a situation, they do not have to follow regulations in the same way. Instead they can simply clear an area of non-service people and fly the drone. Although the two teams on stage have had years of training with UAVs, they admitted that poorly trained drone pilots within other forces could be a concern.

Huckson said that any pilots of drones within the emergency services “have to ensure the standards are over and above the standard user” because the services “cannot afford for mistakes to be made”.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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