University of Cincinnati to Open Drone Flight School for Emergency Responders

University of Cincinnati to Open Drone Flight School for Emergency Responders

By Lucas Wimmer Feb 11, 2016

Whether it’s Amazon considering delivering packages by drones or regular citizens using them to film grandiose aerial footage to put on YouTube, drones are widely available and visible. Recent news reports describe how some fire and EMS agencies are integrating drones into first responder operations, too.

Leading a charge to educate agencies on how to operate these unmanned aircraft is the University of Cincinnati, which is launching a three-day course in July titled “UAV Flight School for Emergency Responders.”

Larry Bennett, an associate professor and program chair of the Fire Science and Emergency Management department, says the course has drawn a lot of interest already.

Bennett, who has been in the fire service for more than 30 years, got the idea for the course from watching fellow professor Kelly Cohen—who has been working with drones since 1990—teach an honors-level course on UAV flight.

“I thought, ‘my gosh, this could be an item of great use in fire and EMS’,” says Bennett. “UAVs can be of real value to us at certain scenes. Rather than sending people in to collect materials at HAZMAT scenes, we can send in a UAV.”

Cohen says teaching emergency management personnel to use the UAVs can be helpful in making fire scenes clearer for incident commanders or helping perform search and rescue operations. Right now, Cohen says they are working on using a pack of drones to track a chemical, biological or environmental disaster to be able to predict how the incident will progress so commanders can make real-time decisions to mitigate any disaster.

The course will cost around $500 and will take place July 11–13, 2016. The class will cover how to use drone flight to help with emergency response situations, such as structure fires and HAZMAT situations. Thanks to grant monies, the department is able to provide drones for all attendees to fly.

The indoor facility at the university supports indoor drone flight, so the training will take place in safe, controlled environments to minimize any risk associated with flying the drones.

Nets and safety features inside the building help prevent any accidents, Cohen says.

Weather can sometimes be a hurdle with courses such as this one, Cohen says. There have been times when he has tried to fly drones at the airport, where winds may be up to 45 miles per hour, and the flights just don’t work out, he says. “We don’t take chances with safety,” Cohen says. “We have our limits to when we can and can’t fly.”

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Bennett says inclement weather is one of the scenarios in which UAVs might be useful, though. He gives the example of a whiteout blizzard recently between Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Forty cars and semis had crashed and were stuck at the scene. In the correct circumstances and a controlled airspace, drones could be used to help provide aid to people stuck in their cars.

The July course, which the FAA has endorsed, will be the first of its kind offered at University of Cincinnati.

To learn more about the UAV Flight School for Emergency Responders, or other classes in the University of Cincinnati Fire Science and Emergency Management department, visit

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