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Interview with Chief Charles Werner, Director of the DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance on Public Safety UAS Programs

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Interview with Chief Charles Werner, Director of the DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance on Public Safety UAS Programs

Toby Liew
Co-Founder of Drone Run

We have a special guest who turned out for this edition of UAV Interview Series.

He is none other than Chief Charles Werner, Director of the DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance. Werner is a 45 year veteran of public safety, FAA-certificated Part 107 remote pilot, National Career Fire Chief of the Year 2008, chaired many UAS panel/committee, Unmanned Systems advisory board, etc.

My Dear Drone is privileged to interview a person of his caliber and experience and salute his dedication for supporting public safety UAS mission.

His DRONERESPONDERS public safety UAS program unites all search and rescue specialists, emergency managers, first responders under one hub to prepare, respond, learn, train, and test unmanned aerial vehicles.

In this interview, he talks in-depth about DRONERESPONDERS mission, growth of public safety UAS programs and the challenges facing it, how first responders are operating drones, way forward for the drone industry, their inaugural drone event, how he spends his drone-less times, and so on.

If this doesn’t excite you, we do not know what will remember it is an exclusive interview and there is a wealth of information below. Just keep reading till the end, and we promise you will not get disappointed.

Without further ado, let us dive in and find out what he has to say.

Welcome to our interview Charles Werner, Say about yourself and your experience. How did you enter the drone market?

I am a 45 year veteran of public safety, 41 years in the fire service, 37 years with the Charlottesville Fire Dept, the last ten years as fire chief until retirement in 2015.

After retirement, I spent 2 years as senior advisor/acting deputy state coordinator for the Virginia Dept of Emergency Management (VDEM). Then I served one year as Chief of Public Safety for DroneUp (a Drone for service company).

Throughout my career, I was a technologist and always looking for technologies that help public safety to operate safer and more effectively. In 2008, I was selected as National Career Fire Chief of the Year by Fire Chief Magazine.

I purchased a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced and became a hobbyist to test the utility for public safety. Until 2016 (when FAA Rules changed to allow Part 107 and public agency COAs).

While flying as hobbyist, I determined much could be gained for public safety from the use of drones. In 2016, I became an FAA-certificated Part 107 Remote Pilot. In 2017, I helped in the implementation of drone programs with VDEM (which now has a drone in every region) and the Albemarle County VA Sheriffs UAS Team. I have traveled around the country to present on public safety drones.

I acted as the first chair of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards Technical Committee on Public Safety UAS ( I also act as the:

  • Chair of the National Council on Public Safety UAS (founding member)
  • The chair of the Virginia Commonwealth Secure UAS Panel
  • Vice-Chair of the International Public Safety Association UAS Committee (first chair and founding member)
  • The National Telecommunications Public Safety UAS & Robotics Working Group
  • The Center for Innovative Technologies Unmanned Systems Advisory Board
  • The PVCC Public Safety UAS Program Advisory Board and U.S. National Representative on the International Emergency Drone Organization
  • Member of the EENA Public Safety UAS Committee and the ANSI UAS Standards Collaborative Committee for the Standards Roadmap

Tell us regarding the DRONERESPONDERS public safety UAS mission, what is it, and your part there. How did the program get started?


DRONERESPONDERS is a grassroots organization that is designed to form a nationwide network of public safety remote pilots and public safety drone programs to communicate, coordinate, and collaborate between and with each other.

Additionally, it serves as a portal or repository of public safety drone documents. The Resource Center now has over 300 documents (the most extensive online collection) that includes but not limited to SOPs, Best Practices, Lessons Learned, Operations Manuals, Checklists, Reports, and so much more.

Throughout the U.S. and worldwide, you find them launching unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the air during different types of incidents and emergencies.

We are the DRONERESPONDERS team, and our rankings are growing daily as more companies continue to adopt drone for public safety operations.

DRONERESPONDERS is a non-profit organization created to bring together these new search and rescue specialists, emergency managers, and aerial first responders under a single program to help test, train, and learn with each other with the ultimate goal of maximizing UAS missions for safety of public.

The program got started in April 2019 after seeing great interest, exponential growth in public safety uses with the realization about this new frontier that there were very few places to find the information, other than other departments that had done this.

The desire to understand, learn, and implement public safety drone programs is growing at a rapid rate, and there is both a hunger and need for information.

The organization is open to public safety, government agencies (federal, state, and local), academia, nongovernmental organizations, UAS businesses, and industry. Membership is free.

There will be many partnerships that will be announced with companies, organizations, and programs. In October 2019, DRONERESPONDERS has partnered to initiate a Public Safety UAS Leadership Summit in Las Vegas at the Commercial UAV Expo.

What is unique is that it provides one day of public safety drone content while the second day is a thought leader session (some of our nation’s best) designed to establish objectives to advance public safety drones.

I serve as the director for DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance and oversee all aspects of the organization.

Share a few words about your advisory squad and what causes them excellent. Any exciting memories about the way the team emerged?

The Advisory Board is an impressive group of individuals who are involved in the public safety drone ecosystem.

They are some of the best who are looking to serve as leaders and champions in this space. The group is purposely designed to have representation from across the United States.

The team came together interestingly. Primarily through my travels and interactions with these individuals.

They were chosen because of their expertise and their strong desire to advance the safe and effective use of public safety drones. The Board Members each have a unique set of skills related to public safety drone operations.

How are first responders working with drones nowadays?

Emergency Responder Using Drone to Save Lives

Drones are used in almost every aspect of public safety operations, and here is a list (but not limited to) of public safety uses:

Structural firefighting overwatch, hazmat incidents, search and rescue, tactical operations, active shooters/hostage situations, serious transportation accidents, traffic crash reconstruction, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, tornados, earthquakes, damage assessments, lifeguard/water rescues, shore shark patrol, inside entry to hostile situations, to inspect/monitor critical infrastructure, ski patrols, and more.

Drones are a game-changer in that they can provide a drone’s eye view (DEV) that identifies information or hazards otherwise not seen from the ground.

Many of these unknown hazards can be dangerous, even life-threatening. One of my thought-provoking questions to agencies is, “Would you ever put your personnel or citizens in harms way unnecessarily?” I answer by showing them in a presentation, slides of about 25 use cases and say, “If you don’t have a public safety drone program, you are placing people in harms way unnecessarily.

What are a few of the critical issues still confronting public safety drone operations?

Funding for UAS/Payload and training for remote pilots, lack of training standards/certifications, the time that is required to stay proficient, increased number of mission types/flights, and increasing workload.

As public safety agencies UAS programs become more successful, they will be asked to fly more missions in frequency and type. As they expand missions, they realize they need a different drone and/or payload. Now the costs begin to swell.

Additionally, the strain increases on demand for remote pilots, and an increase in training, which start to conflict with their other collateral duties.

That’s why multi-discipline regional teams are recommended as all the burdens of costs, remote pilots, and training are shared.

Have you ever before crashed a quadcopter? What was your most extreme experience?

Yes. Early in flying, I lost GPS signal, and the drone drifted into a tree. Once it hit the tree, it fell to the ground.

Drone suffered a broken arm which holds one of the rotor motors (which needed repair before operational) – no other damage or injury.

Where do you find drones headed in five years? ten years?

Airborne International Response Team Training

Drones will become a necessity and have an integral role in any significant. Drones today already have greatly enhanced safety and operational effectiveness.

There are 264 specific reports of drones saving lives in the past couple of years. During the natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.), drones for good helped thousands of people by locating lost people, locating people in need of rescue, detecting sulfur dioxide, and monitoring lava flow from the Hawaii volcano to alert for evacuations. Providing situational awareness and telling us “how bad is bad.”

As the sense and avoid technology, and remote identification evolves, we will see significant expansions in how drones are used as they can fly beyond visual flight and operate over people.

The use of drones for operational situational awareness during an emergency incident will be the norm. Transport of defibrillators, medication, supplies, flotation devices will be part of our daily lives.

Artificial intelligence and augmented reality will greatly enhance flying, data collection, and analysis to the point that flights will be more autonomous than manual operation.

There will be a great expansion in the automatic dispatch of public safety drone from initial dispatch of an incident to provide immediate information/situational awareness from an emergency scene which can identify if more resources are needed or other resources may be put back in service.

There will be more tethered drones (continuous power) which can easily be launched from an emergency vehicle and maintain overwatch with streaming video.

Drones will have multiple launch/land pads that can house and recharge the drone’s battery, which increases the drone’s field of operations. Drones will also automatically fly and provide information from wildfires.

In ten years, there will be high rise firefighting drones, drone ambulances, and video streaming (in the U.S.) over FirstNet (AT&T).

There will be car/drone combination vehicles, and response agencies will be using them as an incident or operations commander may operate out.

What do you believe the biggest myths is of drones for public safety?

The biggest misconception is that the drones are being used to spy on people. That is the reason why it is so important to be transparent, engage the public, and work with the local ACLU office in advance of implementation.

What has the multirotor been able to do to you that you would not otherwise manage to achieve with traditional chopper?

We can see much more as a drone can fly lower, move under tree canopies, provide higher resolution imagery (still and video), can utilize sensors for detection/identification of a hazmat release, can be flown in some weather where helicopters cannot.

Drones can be flown inside of a structure. Drones are significantly inexpensive to operate compared to helicopters.

It should be noted that helicopters are better for lengthier flight missions and that drones should not be perceived as a replacement for helicopters.

You stated you joined with Commercial UAV Expo Americas to host inaugural Annual U.S. Public Safety UAS Summit. Excellent! What could we expect?

  1. The first day of exciting public safety content.
  2. The second day is all about thought leader discussions on current state and future state and a roadmap to get there.
DRONERESPONDERS Board of Advisors on the Discussion Table

Why should drone operators/owners consider obtaining insurance to their drones?

There are two aspects of drones, personal liability and repair/replacement as a result of a drone crash. Liability insurance is essential for each pilot. Replacement/repair after an accident becomes more necessary in the more expensive drones.

What are the most frequent mistakes you see pilots doing with their UAVs. What are the after-effects from these errors?

I am not sure it is a mistake but more of an observation.

There isn’t enough operational proficiency due to lack of adequate/regular training, minimum training requirements, and certification requirements.

DRONERESPONDERS is working on these areas. Without proper training, it impacts safety and exposes the agency to liability from the damaged property and/or people injured or killed.

What kind of training must drone pilots get before they begin flying their crafts? What are the advantages of this training?

In the U.S., the common consensus is to start with Part 107 training and passing the FAA 107 test. Then an average to start is five days of training which address fundamentals of flying, tactical skills, night flying, emergency flying, and scenario-based flight operations.

Then there is a need for more advanced flying and certifications in the various technical flights such as mapping, traffic crash construction, hazmat operations, wildfires, Law Enforcement tactical ops, etc.

DJI Inspire Flying Over the Flag

The basic and advanced training provides benefits from learning scenarios and understanding objectives before they are live incidents, they understand and can plan the workflow to achieve the best outcomes, and most importantly, it is safer.

By flying emergency procedures, loss of signal and flying in the absence of GPS prepares them for the real-life experience, which is very few and far between.

What do you feel about the current drone law state – do you believe the government performing a great job with licensing and regulations?

Generally yes on drone laws. The problem which even adds to emergency response is the state and local ordinances.

They are usually not airspace regulations, but more on what you can/can’t do with a drone and/or where you can land and takeoff.

What advice would you give new drone users on getting the maximum from their investment?

Know what you are getting into. See my list of considerations for implementing a drone program and sustaining it.

When you are not droning on, where can we see you?

Presenting around the world about Drones For Good through the DRONERESPONDERS Organization to advance the safe and effective implementation of public safety drone programs to help people/responders in need, protect property, and to save lives!

Portrait of Charles Werner Standing Near Fire Truck

Is there something else which we have not touched on you would love to share?

Drone/remote pilots are PILOTS! All drone pilots must operate from a position of SAFETY, knowledge, experience, proficiency, and professionalism.

They must exercise due diligence to fly within the rules of the national airspace, know the limitations of their drone and respective payload, weather, presence of manned aircraft, and always conduct a risk assessment before flying.

Check out DRONERESPONDERS on the web

2 thoughts on “Interview with Chief Charles Werner, Director of the DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Alliance on Public Safety UAS Programs”

  1. Chief Werner,

    Please contact me regarding FAA-approved UAS training for First Responders, to Air Carrier Standards.

    We want to collaborate with AIRT in fine-tuning this comprehensive UAS program for First Responders, conducted by Officer Drew Jurkofsky.

    We are a certified Part-142 FAA Training Center, training the NASA Flight Crews and airline pilots from around the world.


    Bruce Oaster, COO

    • Hello Bruce Oaster, welcome to our website. It is advised to direct your questions straight to Chief Werner through any of the platforms listed under the “Check out DRONERESPONDERS on the web” section.


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