GV Expo: Herlocker Shares How FDNY Uses Video For Emergency Intelligence

Shown in FDNY colors is Hoverfly Technologies' LiveSky quadcopter tethered-drone.

WASHINGTON-It's known throughout New York City's Fire Department that when an incident commander has access to real-time intelligence during emergency situations like a fire or a building collapse, lives and property can be saved.

That was precisely the point driven home during Tim Herlocker's keynote session, "Live Video Supports Tactical Decision-Making in the Nation's Largest Fire Department," on day two of the speaker and exhibition phase at the Government Video Expo. Herlocker is the FDNY's Director of the Emergency Operations Center, the information and intelligence hub serving the entire department.
 
"Visual data is something that is more easily understood. An experienced firefighter makes decisions on the amount of flames, the color and volume of smoke and so we set out to try and find that,"Herlocker explained.
 
For a while the fire department has had access to the feeds from police and news choppers as well as fixed traffic and security camera footage, but an imperative need to have a better view of an emergency situation arose from the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001.
 
Since then the department has deployed Command Tactical Units- which are firefighter personnel who operate lightweight cameras and soon to be drones-for the purpose of providing live video to the onsite Incident Commander and the offsite Emergency Operations Center.
 
The FDNY at one point was using Panasonic security cameras hooked with a Rajant wireless node and a large battery fixed into a custom Pelican case. In 2014, the FDNY started to utilize 4G LTE by using a JVC Adixxion camera linked to a Verizon MiFi. Now, the department uses an iPhone and Verizon MiFi with a video streaming service from Kencast.
 
Herlocker noted that each transition led to a better picture quality and lower latency.
 
The FDNY, like many police and fire departments are developing strategies to employ drones. In the case of the New York City Fire Department, a UAV would greatly increase situational awareness by opening up an additional view as iPhone video usually comes from units on the ground or on a nearby rooftop. Once tests are completed, Herlocker says the department will begin to deploy a Hoverfly Technology LiveSky tethered-power quadcopter. The tether allows the department to avoid violating NYC's restricted airspace as well as to supply continuous power to the drone so it can stay airborne for long durations.
 
Herlocker suggests to any emergency response agency that is considering drone use that they come up with a “articulable mission and purpose, something that can be easily written out.” Also, since drone use by a public agency could be controversial, Herlocker says to be prepared to speak in front of a city council.
 
The New York City Fire Department's use of video for quick decision making has previously been reported on by Government Video; check that out here.

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