How drones reduce costs & where to find grant funding

Dr. Judy Riffle explores drone costs and drone grants that can help fund for first responder uses

“Drone” is a generic term to identify unmanned aircraft. Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aerial systems (UASs) and have many shapes and forms. Most importantly, drones have camera and video capabilities which can be transmitted. The common UAVs are fixed wing (airplane like) and rotor (helicopter). They continue to be integrated into several aspects of our communities: medicine and prescription delivery, food and essential delivery, emergencies, and many other areas.

First responders need funding for drones to ensure lives are protected and emergency costs are kept at reasonable amounts. Because drones can reduce both measurable and immeasurable costs in saving lives, numerous grants are available to help first responder agencies procure and use them.

Drones Provide Cost Savings

“Drones overall will be more impactful than I think people recognize, in positive ways to help society,” according to Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder.

Several public safety use cases are fueling investments in drone uses. Drones can be equipped with thermal imaging, infrared and broadcasting cameras. First responders routinely use drones for active shooter, drug interdiction, lost hiker, accident investigation, prison escapes, pursuit, surveillance, and search and rescue operations.

Drones cost between $100 to several thousand dollars. In comparison, a new search and rescue Bell 206 JetRanger helicopter costs $700,000. One skilled drone operator using camera technology can search a 1,000-acre tract of land for less money than a helicopter.

Even though drones do cost first responders up front, they make up the cost difference exponentially in the rear. In a article, Matt Waite, a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, wrote:

You can buy a really good drone kit for about $1,800, that's about what it would cost you to fly a helicopter for an hour."

Drones Save Lives

“Hundreds a year are killed inspecting power lines, inspecting gas lines and cellphone towers. They fall. There are helicopter crashes. We can eliminate all that with autonomous drones and artificial intelligence,” said Brian Krzanich, former Intel CEO during a interview.

Protecting life and providing security is a top priority for first responders. With drone technology, first responders can reduce their exposures to inherent dangers. For example, a drone can locate an uncooperative domestic violence suspect who fortified himself on the roof of a tall building. The drone captures and transmits real-time images so the responding incident commander can make decisions that reduce danger to patrol officers.

Drones are relatively new on the technology spectrum and are evolving at a fast pace. The following list showcases evolving uses. The “10 Unusual Uses for Drones,” according to Explora, are:

  1. Amazon Prime Air
  2. Agriculture
  3. Aerial construction drones
  4. Ambulance drone
  5. Industrial inspection
  6. Window-cleaning
  7. Internet access
  8. Wildlife conservation
  9. Real estate
  10. Film and Video

Federal Grant Funding for Public Safety Drones

In How to Fund a Police Drone, Therese Matthews noted “Homeland Security funding is currently the most widely used grant source for police drones.” The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers 11 emergency preparedness grant programs that can help with drone investments for many first responder uses.

The Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) provides more than $350 million to assist state, local, tribal, territorial governments in enhancing and sustaining all-hazards emergency management capabilities.

The Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) provides more than $1 billion to:

  • State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) - $415 million to support the implementation of risk-driven, capabilities-based State Homeland Security Strategies to address capability targets
  • Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) - $590 million to enhance regional preparedness and capabilities in 31 high-threat, high-density areas
  • Operation Stonegarden (OPSG) - $90 million to enhance cooperation and coordination among local, tribal, territorial, state and federal law enforcement agencies to jointly enhance security along the borders

Other DHS grants of interest are:

County and city municipalities may also apply for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, “which are the largest sources of grant funding to support law enforcement equipment and training,” according to Matthews. A good tip is to liaison with your State Administering Agency (SAA).

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies and organizations offer grants that can fund drones. Categories in this list include Emergency Medical Services (EMS), fire departments, first responders, law enforcement, pre-disaster mitigation and others.

Other federal grant funding is found at the Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) website. In 2019, the following grants funded security and training: Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS), Community Policing Development (CPD) Program, and Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) Program.

The COPS School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) grant did not allow the purchase of drones in 2019.

Corporate and Family Foundation Grants

Corporate and family foundations are also a great place to find unrestricted funding for drones, such as Target, Walmart, Firehouse Subs, Union Pacific and more.

The Firefighter’s Charitable Foundation provides equipment and other fire/disaster items needed.

Already have drones? The DARTdrones Public Safety Grant funds training for police and fire departments.

The following organizations can also potentially fund drone projects:

Consider contacting SPCA for a collaborative animal rescue/first responder grant using drones to find animals to rescue during an emergency such as a flood or fire through their Shelter Support Fund.

Final Tip: Set up a reminder to do regular Google searches for “drone grants” to track new funding sources.

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