The ROVER Team

Background

In the spring of 2016, the York County Department of Fire and Life Safety, along with the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, founded a specialized team that utilizes small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). This team, known as the Remotely Operated Vehicles for Emergency Response Team (ROVER Team), provides situational awareness and other tactical missions during public safety incidents, such as missing persons, hazmat incidents, bomb/explosive incidents, hostile/hostage situations, storm damage assessment, etc.

Photo of ROVER sitting stationary before a mission

Operations

The ROVER Team operates under a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration. This COA allows the team to fly in all classes of Airspace on the Virginia Peninsula, with coordination of the various public and military airports Air Traffic Control Facilities. Additionally, the ROVER Team can fly in Class G airspace anywhere in the National Airspace System, and in all classes of airspace with an emergency waiver that can be quickly obtained when responding to locations outside of the Virginia Peninsula.

All personnel assigned to the ROVER Team are FAA certified Remote Pilots. This is currently the highest level of FAA certification for piloting unmanned aircraft, and is the same certification required for commercial sUAS pilots. The team and its policies meet, and in most cases, exceed the laws, rules, regulations, and recognized standards and practices for sUAS operations and administration.

The team operates multiple aircraft for different mission needs. The aircraft capabilities include a high powered zoom camera, Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) sensor, payload drop, onboard spot light, and night flight capabilities. The aircraft also features remote video recording and live streaming of video to a field command post, local and state emergency operating center(s), and other places as needed. This information allows command staff and other key individuals to be better informed and thereby more capable of making decisions to protect life, property and the environment.

Missions

The team has responded to multiple missions locally, regionally, and throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia for incidents involving:

  • Large commercial fires
  • Tornado/severe weather damage assessment
  • Situational awareness for large protests and gatherings
  • SWAT and active shooter situations
  • Missing persons (suicidal, Alzheimer’s, elderly, runaway juveniles, etc.)
  • Escaped convicts, wanted persons search in remote areas
  • Hazmat incidents
  • Various training exercises with local, regional, state, and federal agencies

The ROVER Team and its personnel are highly trained and motivated. They are considered by the FAA and peer agencies/teams to be on the cutting edge of UAS operations. The team has served as a role model and consultant for many teams throughout the United States.