PVCC and Virginia Department of Emergency Management partner to hold first national unmanned aerial systems conference for public safety personnel

Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) recently partnered to hold the nation’s first unmanned aerial systems (UAS) conference for public safety personnel.

The three-day conference brought together more than 21 state and national agencies and 14 UAS technology vendors, as well as 225 attendees that came from all over the U.S. and traveled from as far as Belgium and Canada to attend. The conference featured expert panel discussions on a variety of topics including UAS usage by fire and emergency medical services, by law enforcement, in search and rescue situations and in emergency and disaster management. Attendees also learned about the latest Federal Aviation Association (FAA) updates and how to better understand the integration of technology with regional, state and national policies.

“For many of our attendees, this conference was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for them to network and share ideas on how UAS technology can and should be deployed in an emergency or incident response,” said Darren Goodbar, VDEM UAS program coordinator and PVCC UAS instructor. “It’s vital that public safety responders not only understand how to use the technology itself, but the policies and regulations that govern its usage.”

The conference was held at King Family Vineyards in Crozet, Va., a location that was selected because it not only provided meeting space for panel discussions, but also allowed presenters and attendees to take part in live flight demonstrations and training scenarios using UAS technology. Scenarios included search and rescue, disaster response and mapping, industrial building fire with hazardous materials and a water rescue.

“Unmanned aerial systems technology has changed the landscape of how we operate as public safety responders in that it allows us to get a bird’s eye view so that we can understand not only what’s happening in front of us but around us in order to make better decisions in an emergency situation,” said Charles Werner, senior VDEM advisor and retired fire chief of the City of Charlottesville. “This conference allowed attendees to witness firsthand how search and rescue operations can be aided by UAS.”

Robert Koester, CEO of dbS Productions and a presenter at the conference, agrees.

“In a search and rescue incident, the most common problem is limited resources,” said Koester. “Lack of personnel, lack of training, and not enough airborne searching can rapidly decrease a subject’s chance of survival. Time is critical, so we need to make sure that first responders not only have the technology they need, but the training to make sure that they can use it effectively to save a life.”

The conference came about as a result of PVCC and VDEM’s continued partnership to provide training in UAS technology to public safety responders. With support from VDEM, PVCC launched its UAS program in 2016 and became the first college in the nation to receive a certificate of authorization from the FAA to conduct research and development of small, unmanned aerial systems for public safety. The college held its first class for first responders in May 2016 and has since trained over 50 individuals and more than a dozen agencies in UAS technology.

“Here in Virginia, we have made tremendous strides to support unmanned aerial systems including supporting new programs and cutting down unnecessary red tape that limits growth,” said Brian Moran, Virginia secretary of public safety and homeland security. “This conference is one of many efforts that demonstrates the Commonwealth of Virginia's commitment to advancing unmanned aircraft systems in all operational areas. We are grateful to have so many partners who are eager to work together to utilize this technology and advance public safety across Virginia and across the country.”

According to conference organizers, the event exceeded their expectations.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” said Werner. “This conference brought together the best UAS subject matter experts to our community. We had knowledgeable speakers, a great supporting cast and fantastic participation from our vendors. The facility, in particular, was excellent, providing a comfortable, intimate setting where attendees could talk directly with speakers, vendors and with each other.”

Planning is already underway for the next National Public Safety UAS Conference, which will be held in April 2018. According to Werner, future conferences will include more elaborate demonstrations such as night flying, UAS sensor demonstrations and more.

"UAS technology will continue to grow and change as usage increases and as new systems become available," said Valerie Palamountain, PVCC dean of workforce services. "We want to make this an annual event so that public safety professionals and first responders can continue to learn about the latest innovations and breakthroughs, as well as policy and regulation changes, to ensure that they stay at the top of their field.”

To learn more about the UAS conference or PVCC’s UAS program, visit www.pvcc.edu/uasconference.

About Piedmont Virginia Community College
Piedmont Virginia Community College was founded in 1972 and serves residents in the city of Charlottesville, as well as the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson. Since its founding, an estimated 213,000 students have taken credit and noncredit classes at PVCC, and the college has awarded more than 13,000 associate degrees and certificates. Learn more by visiting www.pvcc.edu or by calling 434.977.3900.

About the Virginia Department of Emergency Management
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) works with local government, state and federal agencies and voluntary organizations to provide resources and expertise through the five mission areas of emergency management; prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. To learn more, www.vaemergency.com.

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