Elevating public safety through innovative drone technology

Kerry Blakeman, Head of Security and Policing at Transport for West Midlands, discusses the transformative impact of drone technology on enhancing public safety and their pivotal role in re-defining traditional approaches to security and protection.

Elevating public safety through innovative drone technology

Here in the West Midlands, we see ourselves at the heart of future drone technology. We’re proud to have already delivered a medical drone delivery trial in the region. The Coventry based team at Skyfarer had secured permission to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) along a 32km Temporary Danger Area (TDA). The trial (operating day and night) was held between November 2022 and January 2023 and connected NHS hospitals between Rugby and Coventry.

Our region is also at the start of the Altitude Angel drone superhighway, known as Project Skyway, which will bring exciting opportunities for BVLOS flights at scale. We have also benefitted from the world’s first pop-up drone Urban-Air Port, which came to Coventry in April 2022. The Urban-Air Port demonstrated the potential of logistics, passenger transport and public safety drone responses in the future, highlighting the possibilities that lie ahead.

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is the transport arm of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). We have over 2,500 fixed CCTV cameras covering the bus, train, tram and road network. These cameras help to protect the travelling public and inform decision making in the Regional Transport Co-ordination Centre (RTCC).

Since it opened at the start of 2020, our ground-breaking RTCC has brought together more than 20 public agencies, local authorities and transport operators to pool our information and actions to minimise disruption on the West Midlands’ road and public transport networks. It has proven particularly successful in co-ordinating one-and-half-million spectator journeys, as well as the regular travelling public, as they travelled around the region during the 10 days of Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games in summer 2022.

But the fixed CCTV cameras by their very nature are limited in terms of what they can see. They also involve considerable time and cost to set up and maintain.

TfWM drone

Credit: Transport for West Midlands

Facilitating efficient traffic management

So, this has resulted in TfWM setting up our own in-house drone team. We have a team of five GVC qualified drone pilots who have been live streaming traffic incidents and congestion images into the RTCC. This has allowed RTCC duty managers to get a much wider view on the impact of traffic issues and congestion compared to a single fixed CCTV camera. One traffic specialist at TfWM has described the new drone service as a “game changer” in how he will approach his work in the future in tackling congestion, monitoring, validation and helping to reduce pollution.

Three new drones have been added to the fleet and include the latest state of the art DJI Enterprise M30T. This drone, with its thermal image camera and x200 zoom, can fly for up to 35 minutes in rain and strong winds.

The live panoramic overview provided from the drone team is already making a difference in how congestion at junctions is managed and minimised. The drone team has been deployed to key locations across the region – including Birmingham, Coventry, Walsall and Sandwell – to identify issues on the road network.

The team first flew their drones over the Digbeth area of Birmingham city centre on a particularly busy day, which also coincided with a rail strike. The drone images highlighted traffic building up in an area to the RTCC duty manager, who was then able to deploy Transport Safety Officers into the road to divert motorists away from congestion. We were also able to warn motorists to avoid the congestion, if possible, through social media and traffic news channels.

The drones were also deployed during Aston Villa matches to spot traffic issues and allow up-to-date information to be sent out via our social media channels. These drone images are shared with Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police.


Credit: Transport for West Midlands

Driving collaboration for future advancements in drone technology

Drones offer the potential for advancing public safety and enhancing fixed CCTV for the benefit of everyone. TfWM is working with Skybound Rescuer, a Southampton-based company, to develop and implement a trial of a ‘drone in a box’ solution in an urban area.

The concept revolves around a drone autonomously deploying from its own charging dock and flying a pre-planned route, within visual line of sight, very much like a mobile CCTV camera in the sky. Ater completing its mission, the drone will return to re-charge and fly once again. The first trial drone is set to be based at Walsall Bus Station.

The potential of utilising ‘drone in a box’ solutions in town centre settings is vast, as it offers immense opportunities for enhancing public safety and facilitating efficient traffic management. While currently restricted to visual line of sight flights, the potential of using drones in the public CCTV space arena will be huge when beyond visual line of sight flight does finally become a reality.

CCTV control rooms by their very nature are restricted environments and, as such, the public rarely have access to the operational environment. While it is crucial to prioritise data protection principles, it is essential to acknowledge that there might be a lack of understanding about the actual operations that occur within a CCTV control room.

Securing public support for the ‘drone in a box’ trial and ensuring compliance with the Surveillance Commissioners Code of Practice and British Standards will be at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve. It’s an exciting opportunity to bring a number of agencies together in the trial to evaluate the benefits. We want the public to know what we’re doing and the reason why, so we record all of our flights on This allows the public to see why we’re in their neighbourhood and helps to improve safety, as other drone pilots also use this map.

Kerry Blakeman Kerry Blakeman, Head of Security and Policing at Transport for West Midlands, is an enthusiastic professional who is passionate about leveraging drones for public safety. With notable achievements as a silver command lead during the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 and expertise in police operational event planning, Kerry is highly regarded. He has received honours including ‘The Coventry Award of Merit’ and the ‘Top Cop’ award for Social Media, showcasing his dedication to training and public safety.