How to Start a Drone Program for First Responders

Building a drone program into any public safety agency is increasingly essential for an innovative and advanced, modern toolbelt. These programs are designed to decrease department response times and provide situational awareness for on-scene operators and emergency managers, increasing safety and scene efficiency. However, owning a drone does not constitute having a ‘drone program’ though it can help define the model for how to start a drone program for first responders.

Types of Drone Programs:

If your department does not already have a drone program, there’s never been a better time to get one started. Technology and innovation have interested to create UAS platforms that are a force-multiplier for any size agency.

There are two models of drone programs, the first being “tactical” and is best for visual line-of-sight (indoor & outdoor) operations. Tactical UAS operations include missions like crime/crash scene reconstruction, search & rescue, tactical overwatch, surveillance, and more. Most, if not all, organizations will start with a tactical drone program to build capability, capacity and experience within their department.

The second UAS Program model is “Drone as First Responder” (DFR). The DFR model is used for proactive first-response. A DFR program is technically difficult and is built off of an existing foundation of a scalable and sustainable tactical UAS program. Beyond equipment and software, a successful DFR program is built from an existing program with established Standard Operating, Training, Maintenance, and Safety Procedures.

Vector has created a blueprint that enables organizations of any size to develop and build their drone program thru our proprietary Training, Operations, Safety, and Sustainment (TOSS) program.


Creating a robust UAS training program serves as the foundation for a successful UAS program. Vector’s team of professionals can help your department conduct and establish the training procedures needed build a successful and safe drone program.

Two main certifications are available for pilots and agency these are a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) and a Part 107 certification. Our instructors will help your team prepare for Part 107 certification, provide your operators with hands-on operation training with your UAS platform(s), and instruction for tactical operations and communications.

Additionally, we will provide the consultation to guide you thru the process of gaining COA and BVLOS approval. COA’s allow for operations within controlled airspace and offer access to provisions for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). COA’s include an automatic waiver for flight over people when necessary to safeguard human life. The process can take one to three months, dependent on the request.

Agencies may prefer to hold both certifications to choose what is best and necessary to navigate a varying degree of public safety situations.


A sustainable drone program consists of a codified Training Procedures, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Safety Procedures, a Maintenance and Sustainment Program, and a short & long-term budget for initial start-up, program sustainability and tech refresh. Additionally, departments must have a firm understanding of how they’ll integrate and execute drone operations within the framework of their organizations established procedures. Developing specific tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) is paramount to establishing a scalable and sustainable drone program.

The Vector Team has decades of military and law enforcement experience, and our team of experts are able to help you and your team establish and institute the procedures needed to get your drone off the ground.


Just like any tool in your toolkit, a drone program must be built around a fundamentally sound safety program. Establishing a comprehensive safety program reduces liability and provides continuity and oversite for UAS program managers. Vector has worked with over a 100 public safety and commercial entities to create a documented safety program that provides the foundation for your organization’s UAS Safety Program. We’ve used inputs from our own UAS operations and the best-practices from dozens of established programs around the country to create a comprehensive framework that anyone can use to codify their individualized safety program. A complete safety program provides the foundation for Crew Resource Management (CRM), Operations Risk Management (ORM), Safety Management Systems & Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM).  


Sustainment is a vital part of any successful long-term drone program. Maintenance, Field Care (for UAS Equipment) and Warranty/Tech Support are critical to keeping your aircraft fleet airborne and effective. Pre and Post-Flight maintenance procedures are essential to keeping drones safe and ready for flight. Additionally, when items break or malfunction, a well-established warranty and/or exchange program is essential to keeping your drones in the field. 

Equipment & Software:  

UAS platform requirements for most departments will vary considerably based on geography, environment, mission set(s), and budget. When considering where to start your drone program, start with the requirement and capability you want to deliver (i.e. 3d mapping, thermal, indoor, outdoor, etc.). Second, remember the accessories. Additional batteries, ruggedized cases, fast chargers for the batteries, software, and more are just a few of the things to consider before fielding your new program. Lastly, remember that UAS platforms need sustainment. Every year, there will be costs associated with replacing batteries, buying new props and updating warranties. 

An entry level drone, e.g., DJI Mavic Air 2S w/Smart Controller, allows a department to get into their first drone for less than $2k. A Mavic Air provides a cost-effective way for any department to have an HD drone in their arsenal. However, most organizations want and need thermal capability. For less than $7k, the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced provides a rapid deployable platform with HD camera, thermal camera, spotlight, loudspeaker, strobe light, and over 30 minutes of flight time. And for organizations looking for the ultimate UAS capability, there’s the DJI Matrice 300RTK. Starting at less than $30k, the M300RTK provides a full-spectrum of capabilities that rival those of helicopters.  

Our team will help you and your department match your needs/requirements with the UAS platforms, accessories and software solutions that bring the most complete set of capabilities to your program. Vector provides our clients with consultation to facilitate acquisition of drones and accessories that match the individual needs of the department. We do not approach drone programs in a one-size-fits-all methodology. Your new drone program should be unique to your department and your requirements.


Vector offers a full spectrum of DFR consulting solutions. We provide: 

FAA Part 107 training 


Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) waivers 

Platform and Technology acquisition 

And, much more!