Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) invested in an "unmanned aerial vehicle" or UAV, usually called a drone, in 2015.
- The drone is based at the Maidstone fire station site.
- Specially trained remote pilots from KFRS’s technical rescue team fly the drone.
- ‘Permissions for Commercial Operations’ from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was received in 2015.
- A robust privacy impact assessment and mitigation has been created to prevent filming or photography that is not required.
- Detailed records about all flights, all images and footage captured and all other information about the drone that is required by the CAA are maintained.
How the drone is used
The drone is used to provide a range of services to support all emergency services at a large variety of incidents. This may include (but is not limited to):
- Search and rescue
- Disaster response
- Investigative support
- Hazardous materials response
- Road crashes
- Large-scale open fires or complex structural fires
- Large multi-agency events
The drone helps KFRS make decisions about the best way to deal with an incident by improving the ability to see and understand what is happening from the air. This also helps to reduce risks to the public and other emergency services workers.
The drone has been used successfully in a number of high-profile missing person cases in the last year around Kent and Medway.
Training and quality assurance
- Pilots must regularly fly the drone to maintain their skills and because the drone is based at Maidstone, it is more efficient to do it there.
- The drone must be tested regularly in a controlled environment to make sure any problems are found so that it does not cause a serious issue while being used at an emergency incident.
Drone flight restrictions
As part of the ‘Permissions for Commercial Operations’, and also as responsible drone operators, KFRS will always ensure that the drone is flown:
- Within the line of sight of a remote pilot.
- Below 120 metres in height.
- At least 50 metres from people, property, vehicles and vessels KFRS is not in control of.
- 30 metres away from people during take-off.
- Clear of any aircraft, airports and airfields.
These form part of the CAA's Drone Code. All responsible drone users will fly within these guidelines.
KFRS has two cameras that can be fitted to the drone: A high-definition camera for image photography and video recording, and a thermal imaging camera that detects heat. As part of flying a drone with a camera, we undertook a detailed privacy impact assessment. This means that when flying:
- The drone will only capture photographic images or video footage if there is an organisational need. During training at the Maidstone fire station site, no images or video are captured.
- Any image or video that is taken at an incident is reviewed and either destroyed if not required, or put into a robust digital storage system, which is covered by a data retention policy.
- If the drone is used to capture or view images, an alert will be added to the KFRS website and posted on social media (Twitter and Facebook) to let people know. This is to alert people to the official use of the drone and to provide a contact if someone has any concerns about their privacy.
- The drone will always be flown overtly and the pilots will be wearing fire service uniform to clearly identify themselves.
- Two people are needed to fly the drone safely: a remote pilot controls the drone itself (and only looks at the drone) and a camera operator with the job of controlling the camera, capturing the images and recording if required.