Drones have moved far beyond the realm of hobby enthusiasts; and, as the technology continues to grow government organizations have incorporated drones as valuable tools in their wide range of public services. Today, a number of government agencies are taking advantage of the many different ways drones can be applied. Common government applications range from search and rescue operations to infrastructure monitoring, and several cities have added drones to law enforcement and firefighting departments. Drones have evolved to become remarkably user-friendly and their highly advanced design makes training and operating drones possible for people of any skill level. Drone technology has become highly advanced, dependable, and accurate over the years, and the government has jumped on the opportunity to solve problems more safely, efficiently, and effectively.
With the help of drones, government agencies can collect precise and accurate data that allows them to modernize the way a variety of operations are run. Drones can easily be equipped with the right equipment to perform a variety of tasks while also saving on expenses and keeping government workers out of harm's way. The FAA has authorized 36 government agencies to operate drones; these agencies include border security, environmental protection, land management, disaster relief, and search and rescue.
The most notable governmental use of drone technology is carried out by the Customs and Border Protection Agency which operates the largest non-military drone fleet in the U.S. The border patrol has access to some of the most highly sophisticated drones available including the predator drone (which is usually associated with military operations). Drone technology is perfect for carrying out surveillance operations near the Mexican and Canadian borders. The border patrols use of drone technology has expanded over the years and now provides agents with real-time surveillance of both borders. Approximately half of the Mexican border is patrolled solely by drone surveillance, creating a virtual border fence through difficult and dangerous terrain like mountains, canyons, and rivers. Equipped with high-resolution cameras, drones remotely patrol the same locations and identify the most minute changes including tracks and other evidence of human activity in the area. The department estimates that roughly 2% of illegal border crossings are detected by drones which leaves plenty of room for growth.
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have also enlisted drones to monitor wildfires and the impact of climate change on wildlife. These drones are especially useful for counting wildlife populations using a combination of video and infrared imaging. In other countries, including parts of Africa, this same technology is being used to monitor and protect endangered wildlife from poachers. Drones are being deployed to help protect our valuable ocean resources as well; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has deployed unique research drones on the water called Saildrones. With this new technology, NOAA will be able to gather vital new data to help understand the effects of climate change from areas that were previously too difficult to access. The drones can track melting ice and measure the carbon dioxide levels in the water. More importantly, however, these drones calculate and track fish, seal, and whale populations which assists in efficiently managing valuable fisheries.
Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been expanding its drone fleet in preparedness for future disasters. Drones have already proven themselves during major storm and flood recovery efforts around the world by giving first-responders a bird’s eye view of the damage which enables them to quickly form a plan and allocate resources in the most efficient way possible. Earthquakes are another area where drones can help to quickly map out damage to infrastructure and speed the recovery of vital services. As with many natural disasters, drones can reach areas that have become inaccessible due to flooding, rubble, or other obstructions. This quick easy access is great for speeding recovery but is even more important for search and rescue immediately following an event.
Drones are able to be deployed more rapidly than traditional fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, ultimately saving valuable time when considering the urgency of rescue operations. Drones can cover large areas of land using thermal imaging to help spot victims who are obstructed from view or in hard to reach areas. Rescue workers can also be kept out of harm’s way by using drones to detect hazards or dangerous environments that may otherwise be hidden from view like chemical leaks or radiation. Many search and rescue operations are turning to drones for the cost savings as well. When compared to the cost of a helicopter a drone is remarkably cheap to purchase and operate, which makes it a great force multiplier for organizations to gather more data, search more ground, and allocate funds to other critical areas in need.
Drones have a long way to go in the government sector, but with ongoing tests and loosening regulations, this technology is sure to help government agencies improve efficiency while reducing costs - a combination taxpayers and lawmakers both appreciate.