Emergence Alumnus Making a Difference: Developing a coordinated, full-time drone program with standards

Riverside County Sheriff’s investigator Jeff Hammond had been flying unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for years even before he joined the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Emergence program in 2020. But Hammond knew there was a need for a “properly coordinated” program that would set standards and best practices even as the use of drones in public safety and law enforcement became more common. 

Riverside County Sheriff’s investigator and Emergence Alum Jeff Hammond

So, Hammond (Emergence cohort 2002) decided to make that his Emergence program change initiative, including the creation of a full-time core team to oversee training, deployment, and accountability for the countywide use of drones and other advanced technology. His change initiative also calls for the core team to not just respond to call for service but empower individual teams and stations to be able to responsibly use drones.  

“There is currently a lack of national standards (on drone use in public safety and law enforcement), and we want to use our extensive experience to help set that standard and ensure best practices,” Hammond said. “The world is rapidly changing, and the public expects new and better ways for us to ensure public safety while balancing trust and accountability of law enforcement.” 

Even as Hammond continued participating in the Emergence program, he said his core drone team began developing its own new training standards while also integrating developing national standards, as well as developing new tracking systems for search and rescue, new technology for live streaming and recording video of drone flights, and using advanced mission planning software. 

Hammond credits the first Emergence in-residence (IR) session, which was conducted virtually due to COVID, with helping him learn more about presenting his ideas and public speaking. 

About a week after the first IR session, Hammond said he got an opportunity to brief his department’s executive staff on the use of Android Team Awareness Kit technology for GPS tracking of teams and drones, and show off some of the drones’ capabilities. 

Shortly afterward, Hammond said a sergeant was moved full-time to the drone team, partly fulfilling one of his Emergence change initiative goals.  

Hammond said the team was also subsequently able to make a presentation to the Search and Rescure Council that showed and discussed the trackers the team was developing for search and rescue use and their integration into existing drone systems. In addition, Hammond pointed out, the tracking systems being tested cost a fraction ($60) of commercially available team tracking devices ($1,000). 

The systems are designed to track all search and rescue staff in the field, and create a mesh network to maintain connectivity even in remote areas without cell phone service. The goal is to track all areas that have been searched, make sure all searchers remain alert for any emergencies, and that they all get home safely. 

The system can be used for a range of emergency situations such as fires and evacuations, allowing improved mission planning and safety for workers, volunteers and the public, Hammond said. 

Hammond created a specific action plan as part of the Emergence program outlining challenges and opportunities of drone use, as well as the benefits and limitations, the opportunity for specific programs, uses, and tools to be developed. 

He said his Emergence change initiative proposal was “well received” by his department administration, which has “provided support, understanding and encouragement for moving forward responsibly.” 

According to Hammond, the department is in the process of trying to incorporate a full-time drone team with additional personnel while creating station-level teams for rapid response. 

“As with many departments, staffing levels and budget considerations can slow progress,” Hammond said, “but we are moving forward with implementation of my Emergence action plan one task at a time.” 

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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