National Public Safety sUAS Flight Operations & Incident Reporting

Project Description and Goals

The purpose of this project was to inform the safe, effective, and lawful integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into public safety operations. To accomplish this task, the Police Foundation research team collaborated with government and public safety stakeholders, as well as leading experts in unmanned aircraft systems, and studied seven agencies across the country that were among the first public safety agencies to successfully conduct UAS operations. These agencies included the Michigan State Police, Alameda County (CA) Sheriff’s Office, Mesa County (CO) Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade (FL) Police Department, York County (VA) Department of Fire and Life Safety, York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Through site visits, interviews, and document reviews with each of these agencies, the research team developed practical guidance, including common lessons learned and best practices, for other agencies on how to successfully and safely integrate UAS into public safety operations.

The final report, entitled Building and Managing a Successful Public Safety UAS Program: Lessons Learned and Tools from Early Adopters, identified several key areas agencies need to address when implementing a public safety UAS program, including community engagement, UAS program organization and administration, flight operations, training, safety, aircraft maintenance, and the selection of unmanned aircraft systems. Additionally, the report discusses the critical importance of data collection and how detailed flight operations data can be used to drive a successful UAS program. The report further provides a model framework of data agencies should capture to appropriately monitor, manage, and evaluate UAS operations and fulfill all federal reporting requirements.


Implications for Policy & Practice

The overall finding of the project is that UAS can be effectively and safely integrated into public safety operations with proper planning, development and coordination, as the studied agencies have demonstrated. It is intended that this report be a valuable resource to the ever-growing number of agencies interested in utilizing UAS in support of public safety operations. Furthermore, the model UAS data collection framework may help create a standardization of UAS flight operations databases among public safety agencies, which could facilitate benchmarking of data between agencies, multi-agency research efforts, and the development of systematic knowledge related to the safe and effective use of UAS during public safety operations.


Results & Publications

The final report is available on our Featured Publications page or by clicking here.


Funding & Collaboration

This project was funded by the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.


Point of Contact

Brett Cowell
Senior Project Associate



Drones, unmanned aircraft, UAS, sUAS, police tactics