Utilizing Drones to Improve Public Safety in the City of Philadelphia

Audit Date: January 27, 2016
Audit Categories
  • Other
Controller: Alan Butkovitz
Audit Tags
  • Innovation and Technology,
  • Public Safety


City Controller Issues Report on Utilizing Drones to Create Efficient & Effective Government Operations

Executive Summary


As part of the City Controller’s Office (Controller’s Office) ongoing efforts to explore how latest advancements in technology can be utilized to improve government functions, the Controller’s Office launched a drone with video capabilities to visually inspect dangerous buildings in neighborhoods across the City of Philadelphia. This initiative joins prior actions by the Controller since 2006 which have included improving transparency by posting campaign finance reports online, launching the nation’s first mobile application, “Philly Watchdog” to allow citizens to report fraud and abuse instantly from their phone or tablet, and the numerous recommendations made to create a more efficient and effective government.

Dangerous buildings in Philadelphia have become the root of extreme blight and have caused fear for many residents, as many families live near structures that are on the verge of collapse. Over the last year, the Controller’s Office has identified hundreds of vacant, dangerous buildings through data cross-matching techniques and mapping. The former Administration was provided with lists of addresses and photos of these properties to demolish but minimal action was taken.

Under new Mayoral leadership, the Administration has indicated that it is open to exploring opportunities to improve public safety – as well as operating in an efficient and effective manner. Under the guidance of a professional videographer and compliant with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) guidelines, our objective was to get a broader view of collapsing buildings and the impact they have on the public safety of entire neighborhood blocks. In addition, the Controller’s Office reviewed best practices from cities around the U.S. to assess how drones were being used by other governments. We believe the video and photography the drone captured can be essential to improving our citizens’ quality of life.

Scope of Work:

The Controller’s Office identified neighborhoods with dangerous buildings through prior work and tips received by concerned residents. This included portions of South Philadelphia such as Point Breeze and near Pennsport, Hunting Park in North Philadelphia, and a section of West Philadelphia.

The Controller’s investigators conducted the aerial observations with a professional videographer who met the regulations proposed by the FAA [see appendix I]. The drone was equipped with a GroPro camera that had the ability to record high-resolution video as well as 4K – ultra-high de inition. The Controller’s staff compiled and examined the video and photographs produced by the drone.