First Responders are Turning to Drones. Here’s Why

In the early morning hours of February 8, 2019, a lone man sat in a Denny’s restaurant in Campbell, California, sipping his coffee. No one could possibly have known what was about to happen next.

Soon, without warning, he would pull out a gun and take the employees of the restaurant hostage. It was the beginning of a nearly 12-hour standoff

Police responded with everything they had, from their SWAT team to a bomb-sniffing robot. And yet, the standoff dragged on.

Then, a local company, Impossible Aerospace, offered the assistance of their US-1 drone. The police gladly accepted, and the drone played a critical role in resolving the situation peacefully. 

When the Campbell Denny’s standoff occurred in 2019, less than 350 law enforcement agencies were using drones. Now, just a few years later, more than 1,100 agencies in the United States are turning to drones for law enforcement purposes.

In the United Kingdom, 40 of the 43 national police forces in England and Wales make use of drones.  

So, with thousands of drones used by law enforcement and first responders alike, what are all these drones are doing?

Let’s take a look at some of the many reasons first responders are turning to drones. 

First Responders are Turning to Drones to Locate the Lost

Ever notice how often people tend to get lost?

In the United States alone, over 600,000 people go missing each year. Thankfully, most are eventually found alive and well. Some people, such as suspects fleeing law enforcement officers, disappear – and hope to stay that way.  

As a member of search and rescue teams in both Montana and California, one of the first things I learned was how surprisingly hard it is to find people.

Even with tracking skills and proper equipment, finding a lost soul in the wilderness is a tremendous challenge. And, if that person is a suspect actively trying to avoid detection, the challenge is even greater. 

Woods are thick, terrain can be treacherous, and even in the best of circumstances, there’s always too much ground to cover.

Even with dozens, or scores of searchers, there’s only so much ground that can be covered by foot in a day.

Drones, on the other hand, are able to canvas tremendous areas quickly, regardless of difficult terrain, rivers, or otherwise impassable areas.

Further, they’re able to reveal what the human eye might otherwise miss.

With their ability to be equipped with both night vision cameras and thermal imaging systems, drones are particularly well suited for finding people not only in the day, but in the dark of night, as well.

UAVs are already starting to chalk up wins in this category, with several lost people owing their rescue to drones with thermal cameras. In fact, in many instances, rescuers have walked right past missing persons, concealed by thick brush and complete darkness.

What saved them were the drones used by law enforcement and rescuers.

In this case, it’s no wonder first responders are turning to drones for a better view.

If your agency isn’t already using drones for this purpose, you’re missing out on one of the most critical tools available.

Drones Gather More Intel

When you think of government agencies ‘gathering intel’, it’s only natural to wonder if that translates to ‘spying on you’. Thankfully, in reality, that’s not really the case.

First responders are turning to drones for legitimate and critical uses. The truth is, unless there’s a reason to deploy the resources necessary, police and other organizations have no interest in sending drones to watch over the public.

In addition to surveillance, drones assist in operations such as traffic investigation, drug interdiction, accident reconstruction, crime scene investigation, and crowd control.

But, first responders are turning to drones for even more data-gathering needs.

For example, imagine the chaos of a building on fire.

The actions of firefighters in and around the flames is nothing short of heroic. For those in the thick of the danger, assessing the true nature of the situation is one of the most difficult aspects of job.

Often, responders only have a few precious minutes to assess what’s going on, and make split-second decisions that can change a life in the blink of an eye.

If you were in that situation, wouldn’t you want as much information available as possible?

Here again, drones offer a critical solution.

UAVs assist on-scene commanders by gathering information on where crews are operating around a fire. Using thermal cameras, they also identify the hottest points of a blaze to better direct your team either towards, or away from, where they need to be.

With a UAV overhead, and a trained pilot at the sticks, tracking people and monitoring the situation is simplified, keeping your team safe and secure. 


In a hostage situation like the one in Campbell, California, open lines of communication between first responders and the suspect are crucial. The ultimate goal of negotiators is always to bring the hostage situation to a peaceful resolution.

For any solution to occur, police must be able to speak with the person holding the hostages. 

Sometimes, law enforcement is lucky enough to have a phone in the location.

But what if none is readily available?

At that point, they must risk bringing a phone to the suspect – a move that puts lives in danger. Now, drones are starting to take the place of people handing off phones or radios to suspects. 

Las Vegas-based drone manufacturer BRINC is providing one such solution to first responders turning to drones.

The company’s LEMUR S drone is equipped with a two-way communication system, enabling safe communication from a distance. Some would even say the LEMUR S is almost like a flying cell phone.

The drone can land near a suspect, and allow police to talk back and forth with them to end the standoff.

What’s more, the LEMUR S can even break glass windows to approach suspects who have barricaded themselves inside a building. With drones like the LEMUR S opening lines of communication, tense situations have a much greater chance of peaceful endings.

The Major Takeaways

For first responders everywhere, turning to drones to overcome the challenges of the job just makes sense.

Agencies already using UAV technology are seeing the significant advantages drones bring to the table for their officers and the citizens they protect.

If your department is curious about bringing drones into your organization, the FAA has some basic information posted to help get you started (for those in the US).

Still, it is best to speak with experts in the field if you’re serious about creating or improving your drone program.

So, are you thinking about incorporating a drone program into your organization? Where do you start? Which drone is right for you? How do you go about getting the training your team needs?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

Picture of David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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