Blue sUAS and Public Safety: Adorama’s James Bushey on New Challenges, and How to Get Started Anyway

Blue sUAS and Public Safety

The Blue sUAS list was designed to provide secure platforms for U.S. defense agencies – but use of the list has spread, causing confusion in the commercial and public safety drone sectors.  A recent move by the state of Florida to limit public drone use to Blue sUAS has added to the problem.  DRONELIFE talks to James Bushey of Adorama to clarify Blue sUAS and Public Safety drone programs – and hear his advice on how to get started or build out a public safety drone program.

James Bushey, the Director of Technical Specialists at Adorama, has an extensive history in law enforcement – and in Public Safety drone programs. He served as a police officer in the Town of Linn Police Department, Wisconsin since 2006, and served as the Chief of Police from 2016 to 2021. He is certified in Special Weapons And Tactics, various levels of FEMA public safety certifications, a State of Wisconsin LESB certified academy instructor, ALERRT Level 1&2 Terrorism Response, AUVSI accredits TOPS Level Pilot, ITC certified Thermographer and has logged hundreds of flight hours across his work in public safety, as a private contract commercial real estate imaging photographer, and waterway/land conservation work contractor.

DRONELIFE (DL): What does this move by Florida state mean for state public safety agencies who have previously relied upon Chinese-made technology?

 James Bushey (JB): As many of us know, the Federal Government came out with a list of approved drones, Blue sUAS List, in 2020.  This was a big ruling for the domestic industry, but state and local governments, and private enterprise were still able to carry on, business as usual, and use any drone they wanted.  This Florida ruling is the first time we’ve seen a state, and a large state at that, take things into their own hands and specifically mentioned which drones can be used by its state and local governments.

This is a big deal for agencies who may have spent years building their program, training their staff, and buying hardware.  As the bill currently states, they will have until January 1st, 2023 to retire these non-US made systems.

State and local governments typically have small budgets, so this is a setback that they will have to grapple with, and quickly.

 DL: Do you think that the rule will limit the new adoption of drone technology by public safety agencies in Florida?

JB: Unfortunately, yes.  If there were agencies that were just starting a program, there is a good chance they were looking to begin with something like a DJI or Autel system as those are the most common drones used by local governments.  This ruling is a huge setback, and will require them to reevaluate their program plans, budgets, and how to move forward.

Additionally, small agencies that had one or two drones, and trained their pilots on these systems, will have to decide how to procure new systems, fit them into their budget, and train their pilots on these new systems.

 DL: How can companies like Adorama step in to help these agencies sort out the confusion?  

 JB: At Adorama we’re in a unique position to assist these agencies through this process by helping them procure the approved drones.  Adorama can help finance these new drones if its helpful for the agency’s budget, we have approved trainers who can train agencies on the new drones, we buy back the old unapproved drones from the agency, and even repair their drones going forward.

 DL: Do you see states and agencies adopting the Blue sUAS list or a short list more often as a way of avoiding the confusion over security?

 JB: That’s a good question.  While we don’t expect to see a large swath of states adopt the approved list as Florida has, we do expect some states will come own with some rulings around security, and foreign, notably Chinese-made technology, for their governments and products which are purchased with government funding.

Conversely, we also expect the Florida list to be expanded, and to include additional UAS made ‘approved’ drones in the future.  We’re not sure when, but it’s something we’ll be paying close attention to.

DL: If a state public safety agency wants to get started with a drone program now, how what should they do first?

 JB: The most important thing they need to do, is do their research and learn from people who have setup a drone program in a similar situation.  There is no one-size-fits-all drone program when it comes to public safety.  It all depends on the agency’s use cases for drones, whether they work in urban vs. rural areas, budgets, and more.  We published a document titled 7 Steps to Starting a Successful Drone Program for Public Safety which discusses sourcing hardware, software, getting insurance, FAA rules and regulations, and managing public perception of a public safety drone program.

DL: What resources does Adorama offer state agencies?  What other resources would you suggest?

 JB: We’re continuing to build out the ‘Adorama Drone Ecosystem’ offering a unique set of products and services to agencies who are starting or continuing to build out their drone programs.  I started the drone program at my former position as Chief of Police in the Town of Linn, Wisconsin, and I experienced firsthand how these services are important.

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • In-person Training
  • Financing
  • Repairs
  • Leasing
  • Insurance
  • Buy & Sell Used

DL: Is there anything else you’d like state agencies to know about adopting drone programs?

JB: Agencies should look at their drone purchase as not just an immediate capital expense, but an investment that will require monetary and personnel time. A great program includes time for recurring training for it pilots (monthly and/or annually) to not only stay proficient in their ability to use the aircraft at its optimal performance level but to stay current on changes in rules and regulations locally and at the FAA level.

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