Never Underestimate the Power of Drone Training

by Dec 19, 2020Emergency Response


There have been many times over the past 30 years where training was a saving grace. In 1988 I was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida onboard Cecil Field NAS on detachment to Fallon, Nevada’s airframes shop. We were performing sortie evolutions and awaiting the return of our pilots. 

Suddenly, a quasi-“General Quarters” alarm sounded. Something was terribly wrong. We dropped everything and ran to our “battle stations.” No, war had not broken out. One of our F/A-18 pilots radioed maintenance control with an emergency when his landing gear failed to release. He attempted a fuel tank jettison and “belly” landing – a dangerous maneuver. The Commanding Officer told our pilot to “punch out” and ditch the aircraft.

Simultaneously, the rest of the maintenance crew and I responded to the emergency. Everyone knew exactly what to do in the crash scenario. We immediately responded to the pilot, dispatched Damage Control (Firefighting Team), secured the flight line perimeter, directed salvage crews to remove the debris, and performed an emergency Foreign Object Damage (FOD) walk down. The pilot survived the incident, albeit injured and the jet was destroyed.

We returned to normal flight operations in less than 2 hours. How? Training. We had consistently trained for crash scenarios, understood our respective duties and leadership understood our capabilities.

Consistent and Robust Training is Key To Emergency Response

The training we received did not start in the field but in the “classroom.” We spent many hours studying specific job requirements, quality assurance imperatives, technical publications, and emergency response protocols. We transferred that training to the field to practice, drill, and repeat. We also had quarterly, semi-annual, and annual training requirements.

Lack of Consistent Training Leads to Negative Consequences

Why does this matter to you? It matters because without disciplined, uniform, consistent training, your drone team is ill-prepared to address critical incidents and emergencies. Further, each drone team member has a specific position, i.e., drone pilot. Each person with that specialty must be trained in a uniform and consistent manner to facilitate seamless, efficient operations during a critical incident. Moreover, incident commanders have no way to gauge the capabilities of multiple teams during an emergency if those individuals and teams lack appropriate training or have completely different training. 

Training drone teams is a critical element to any agency drone program. Yes, agencies have unique requirements with respect to their drone programs. Law enforcement and firefighters have different needs and face distinct threats. While drone program needs are unique, the training should be consistent. Each specialty on a given drone team, mapper, for example, must be trained the same way as a “mapper” on a drone team in a different agency. 

Current State of Drone Program Training

Unfortunately, the current paradigm supports disparity in training. Program development and training are symbiotic, not synonymous. For example, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are governed by The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians and issue uniform standards. EMR/EMT/AEMT/Paramedics must attend state-approved certification courses. EMS training is intended to be uniform and consistent. Thus, EMS professionals can work in multiple locations and with other services, efficiently and effectively.

It is essential we adhere to industry-wide training, not an individual agency program. Each drone pilot, no matter where they are employed, needs to be trained with uniformity and consistency. So too must each observer, drone tech, mapper, and team lead. 

Establishing a strategic drone program, one specific to agency needs is important to the overall success of the program. Understanding the difference between training individuals for that team, and the program itself is critical to ensuring individual team members receive uniform and consistent training through a program specifically designed for this reason. Only then can those individuals come together during critical incidents and emergencies and perform at the highest level. Moreover, incident commanders faced with leading multiple agencies and drone teams during critical incidents will have a clearer understanding of drone team-related capabilities. Thus, incident response personnel, emergency response teams, and individuals at risk during disasters will benefit from highly trained individuals, serving on highly trained teams, in well-designed programs. 

Agency Drone Program Considerations

Lastly, consider the following if you are starting, or currently lead an agency drone program.

  1. Program Goal(s)
  2. Budget for Training and Budget for Program
  3. Access to Training, Specialty Training
  4. Recruiting Personnel Metrics for Measuring Program Success

Raven’s Vue is a professional, highly trained UAV services firm located in Boulder, Colorado. To find out more about the UAV services Raven’s Vue provides, schedule a complimentary 15 minute call today.