Managing the Unmanned Aerial System

As more unmanned aerial systems (UAS) become available to first responders, the question remains of how they will be incorporated into the frameworks of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS), says Rob Carter, director of Emergency Management and Strategic Services for the Cabezon Group, in a recent article in Homeland Security Today.

Carter takes a look at the advantages to the various types and sizes of UAS platforms compared to helicopter and other fixed wing technologies and concludes that “compared to conventional helicopter and fixed wing assets, UAS can provide immediate, low-cost situational awareness to Incident Commands (ICs), Multiagency Coordination (MAC) Systems, Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and various responder departments, agencies and organizations during ‘all-hazards’ incidents or planned special events of any type, size or complexity.”

Incorporating the use of UAS into NIMS would help inform on the ground emergency management teams and help manage response and coordination resources, writes Carter.

Real-time data from UAS sensors (some of which can be deployed near ground level or up to several hundred feet in active or passive formats) allows multiple people to have access to critical information during an incident managed under ICS, says Carter. It also provides measurable information for future forecasting or training.

Carter theorizes that UAS information and assets would be managed and supported by an air operations branch in the case of larger incidents and smaller localized incidents would be served by situation units. “FEMA may even choose to officially institute the use of an ‘Intelligence Section’ attached somewhere within the incident commander’s command and/or general staff positions, and have it involved in coordinating the use of UAS assets and the resulting information flow. Doctrinally, it will be up to the national responder community to collectively determine the size and complexity threshold of incidents requiring the establishment of an actual air operations branch, as well as transitional issues such as how to establish control and safely coordinate all types of air assets (strategic vs tactical) within the incident’s air space,” writes Carter.

Carter predicts that in the future, there will be a need for more credentialing and operator standards, with a need for real time and post-mortem mission training and analysis.

In terms of a formalized structural change in the ICS and NIMS in terms of UAS technology, Carter sees this happening when the responder community starts using these systems more frequently, when more first responders are trained and certified, and when “UAS assets are formally ‘resource typed’ and accepted into the response framework.”

He pinpoints damage assessment, hazmat response, fire operations, search and rescue, transportation infrastructure, disaster planning and response, disaster relief, environmental and agricultural analysis, public health crises and security and surveillance as some of the areas that could benefit from the use of UAS technology.