Responder Cast and Responder Air

Responder Cast – One of the most popular products from Responder Air is their live stream app called Responder Cast. This product is the easiest, most cost effective live stream platform with a low latency integrated app. Responder Cast allows users to transmit live data quickly and easily.

As your organization’s drone program grows there will be a need for decision makers to see what is happening in the field in real time. For law enforcement there are endless uses. With drones quickly replacing a number of helicopter missions organizations are scrambling to find an easy way to show incident commanders what is going on. From Search and Rescue missions to vehicle and suspect chases the real time stream will aid ground teams in quickly apprehending the perpetrator. SWAT teams will love having thermal and visual overwatch streamed directly to their phones or devices.

Fire department will enjoy being able to share thermal images of a structure fire directly to firefighters on the roof of the building. Forest fire command teams will love having the ability to send out drone pilots to get thermal images of the fire even through thick smoke and make life saving decisions for the teams on the ground that can’t tell where the fire is around them.

Anyone using drones for an enterprise purpose will definitely find a use for Responder Air’s unique solution to viewing what the drone sees in real time.

Responder Air – GenPac Drones has partnered with Responder Air to provide essential services to your drone program needs. Responder Air offers live geospatial-intelligence powered augmented reality for drones. These services allow efficient decision making in complex environments while seamlessly integrating with 911, GIS servers and geospatial data. Responder Air allows you to have effective situational awareness from the sky.

Efficient situational awareness over live video feeds.
Quickly assess and mark impact locations to share with remote teams.

Responder Cast use case #1:

The Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Albany New York is responsible for the County Emergency Management Office and Drone Unit. The Drone unit is comprised of sworn deputies, firefighters and civilian volunteers who are all Part 107 pilots. Sheriff Craig D. Apple Sr. has been extremely supportive of the program from the inception and continues his support as the Drone Unit on numerous occasions has proven its value by supporting first responders in dangerous situations. The team is led by Chief Pilot – Chief Deputy Bormann.

Incident # 20-169866:

On September 1st, 2020 the unit responded to a multiple day hazardous material call where a railcar of styrene gas had begun to leak and an internal reaction was causing the tank to heat up, with the potential of a large explosion.

Initial recon flights were completed shortly after arrival and helped identify/confirm the contents of the car. This allowed for a better understanding of the incident and for nearby evacuations / shelter in place needs.

Overview of Site 1


In the Overview of Site 1, the initial flight path is shown, with the pilot and command post indicated by the “H”. This flight occurred at 0727 hours and lasted for 12 minutes 35 seconds, . During this flight the pilot was tasked with obtaining information on the train car, including the placards as well as thermal temperatures of the car. Initial temperatures were reported at 157° F on the cap, and in the 120° F range on the ends. It is estimated that both ladder pipes had been in operation for about 1 hour at this point.

The initial flights were conducted from Route 32 and were approximately 1600’ away from the rail car, but it was noted that this location was down wind and all responders should move.

Photo 1
Overview of Site 2

Photo 1 and 2 were some of the initial photos taken by the UAS, with Thermal Images 1 and 2 being some of the initial thermal photos taken. These thermal images were taken at approximately 0800 with a DJI XT radiometric thermal imager on a DJI Inspire 1 platform and were showing about 130° F, per UAS Pilot Deputy Hotaling (Photo 3).

Photo 2
Thermal Image 1
Thermal Image 2

At this point all UAS were grounded and relocated to the command post while we setup a computer and projector for live streaming from the various UAS platforms. During this time UAS Pilots found another area to launch from and was about 1800’ away from the rail car (Overview of Site 3). At approximately 1030 and throughout the remainder of the incident, all ACSO flights were live streamed into the command post. Two channels were used allowing us to stream from two aircraft at once when needed.

Overview of Site 3

Operating multiple aircraft allowed us to keep one aircraft on station and monitor the rail car and temperatures, while another one checked the surrounding area and monitored the activity of the firefighting and mitigation crews. Photo 4, inside the command post, shows such activity and also shows the capability of other aircraft flown which have multiple cameras on them including optical and thermal.

Photo 4

Overnight, flight operations continued and during the mitigation phase, two UAS were on station at all times, live streaming to the command post and monitoring the responders on the ground. The surface temperatures of the railcars were closely monitored, since they were not being cooled at that time.

Thermal Image 3
Thermal Image 4

Airspace and Weather:

Airspace was class Golf and all of the missions flown were Part 107 missions. The Albany County Daylight Operational Waiver was utilized to perform Part 107 missions after sunset. The incident is in close proximity to the South Albany Airport which is an uncontrolled airport. ACSO Pilots monitored our aviation radios on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) of 122.9.

Weather was updated throughout the day but remained favorable for flight conditions throughout the incident. Initial weather reports were visibility of 10 miles, wind at 155° at 4 mph. On the morning of September 2nd, 2020 there was rain, but visibility remained acceptable and missions were conducted during periods of little to no rain.

Flight Operations Area:

Due to the unknown duration of the event, the ACSO Drone Unit requested unit 701, the county mobile command post. This unit allowed pilots to have plenty of space, safe from the elements, to perform essential tasks such as charging batteries, analyzing and storing data, work on equipment and to rest while other pilots were flying (Photos 5 – 7).

The flight operations area was relocated, one last time, approximately 1000’ from the rail car and immediately parallel to it. The new location (Overview of Site 4), allowed us to have a larger footprint and to not be right next to the power substation, which could potentially interfere with the aircraft and/or signal transmissions.

Overview of Site 4
Photo 5
Photo 6
Photo 7

On the morning of September 2nd, 2020 the drone unit was asked to focus on other rail cars in the area and work directly with response contractors. The contractor was brought to 701 and was able to inspect multiple cars visually and thermally while working directly with the pilot and viewing it on a large screen inside of 701. This allowed a quick and efficient inspection without anyone having to actually go to the site (Photo 8).

Photo 8

Summary:

The ACSO drone unit was assisted by one pilot from the NYSP and integrated into our unit to share resources. This included additional batteries and charging stations, which was our biggest challenge since we were flying almost continuously throughout the incident. The NYS OFPC also offered additional pilots and support equipment such as batteries and charging stations if needed. Since this was to be a long-term incident, Chief Bormann kept 2 pilots off duty during the first operational period and had them report to the site early on September 2nd. These pilots flew all of the remaining missions that morning, while the others performed maintenance on their UAS and organized data.

ACSO Drone Unit for the incident comprised of all FAA Part 107 pilots from the ACSO Drone Unit and NYSP:

ACSO Drone Unit
Chief Deputy Bormann
Sergeant Nischo
Deputy Hotaling
Deputy Guice
Deputy Casey
Lieutenant Disick – Albany Fire Department
Captain Wanmer – Scotia Fire Department

NYSP
Trooper Gainor
It should be noted that the drone unit was directly supported by members of both Albany County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management and Communications Units. Without their assistance we would not have had resources and logistical needs as efficiently and quickly as they were able to.

ACSO Aircraft Flown:
1 – DJI Inspire 1 with XT Camera (Thermal only)
3 – DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual (Thermal and Optical)
1 – DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Zoom
1 – DJI Matrice 210 with Z30 (30x optical zoom) and XT2 (Thermal and Optical)
1 – Autel EVO
1 – Autel EVO II

NYSP Aircraft Flown:
1 – DJI Matrice 210 with Z30 (30x optical zoom) and XT2 (Thermal and Optical) with ACSO Pilot as Camera Operator

Flight Info:
Total number of flights: 67
Total air time: 18 hours
Total miles flown: 11,000 miles
Total data collected: 28gb

Above info is approximate since we don’t have the full flight data from 2 aircraft, but we can account for at least those numbers.

Lessons Learned:

Differentiating between a short-term and long-term incident early on is important. Other missions we support in law enforcement, search and rescue and firefighting are much shorter in duration. The logistical needs for a longer operational periods require a bigger footprint and having a mobile vehicle or trailer that is setup similar to a command post is very helpful. Identifying the logistical needs of long-term incidents that require UAS support is helpful.

Pilot fatigue is a real issue that was mitigated by having enough pilots onsite, allowing us to rotate. In addition, the decision to keep a couple pilots offsite on rest was really important, as the pilots from the first day were not well rested, and luckily did not have to fly. As the operation went on and into the night, the pilots worked as a team to setup our own approach and departure paths and deconflict the airspace so we could safely have sometimes 3 aircraft in the air at the same time. This allowed us have two aircraft on station, while the third was either inbound or outbound to relieve another aircraft who required a battery change.

The vast majority of flights were flown by the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Duals, but we were challenged in ensuring that batteries were charged and available. Due to the nature of lithium ion batteries, we cannot immediately charge them after each flight. They must first cool down, and then begin the charge cycle. The larger aircraft require more than one battery on board the aircraft and take an extended time to charge in the stock chargers. The need for safe and effective rapid chargers is important for the Enterprise series and including the M210.

Interoperability with other UAS units. The public safety UAS community is relatively small, and luckily our pilots have either worked, taught, or learned from of the other agencies with UAS that were onsite. This meant that everyone was a partner in ensuring that UAS missions were supported with additional pilots and equipment as needed.

We were always able to maintain a visual line of sight with our aircraft; however, this incident would have been a great use case for the recently announced FAA Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight Waiver (TBVLOS). The TBVLOS waiver would allow us to position aircraft out of the pilot’s sight to obtain tactically important information.

Our live streaming platform, Responder Air, performed very well and having the dedicated FirstNet hotspot ensured good transmission. We did try a few other options and did not experience the same quality and performance. The CrystalSky tablets were troublesome when streaming and often was noted that the telemetry data on the tablet did not match the Cendance controller for the M210 series or would just be almost inoperable on the Enterprise series. This has been attributed to an updated version of the DJI Pilot software onboard that is no longer optimized for the CrystalSky. To overcome this, we downgraded one of the CrystalSkys to an older version of the Pilot software, and this took care of the issue. Other options would have included changing out the CrystalSky for an iOS or Android tablet.