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​​​​Members of the San Diego Police Department attend a demonstration of a tethered drone. Photo courtesy of Hoverfly.

Taking Off

​The year 2016 marked a surge in excitement surrounding how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, could be used commercially. Amazon had just made its first product delivery by drone. Countries began passing drone regulation measures in response to the availability of UAVs and in anticipation of continued industry growth. Re- search institutes predicted spending on drones to double by 2020; the security industry was expected to be one of the top adopters of drone technology.

But, despite the hype, security practitioners have been hesitant to adopt the technology and fully integrate it into their security programs.

"Interest level is off the charts," says Lew Pincus, senior vice president of system solutions at Hoverfly. "There's a lot of new technology, but also that doubt when it's new—security directors tend to be averse to new technology and taking on new risks that are unknown."

A combination of the seemingly endless possibilities of drone technology, the overwhelming task of acquiring a drone, gaining buy-in, creating operating procedures, and following federal regulations may be giving the security industry pause.

There's also a lingering perception that UAVs are intimidating, futuristic technology that's meant to take the place of security officers and more traditional security technology. Pincus encourages security managers to consider drones not as an automated instrument meant to replace personnel, but as another tool in their security toolbox, much like cameras or video analytics.

"I really see it in all sorts of applications, but not replacing security guards as much as augmenting them," Pincus explains. "You still need a response component."

And, just like any other piece of equipment in the workplace, training is imperative for a successful—and efficient—rollout of a new program, says Josh Olds, cofounder and vice president of operations at the Unmanned Safety Institute. This is especially true for drones flown in the United States, where the U.S.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a longstanding set of regulations dictating how aircraft are flown.

"In this particular industry, it's not just a piece of equipment, it's being flown in the national airspace, which is regulated by the FAA and presents a whole new complexity to the operation," Olds says. "If for some reason an individual isn't properly trained and improperly uses the technology, you can be looking at serious injury, or privacy and ethics violations."

Olds has a background as a commercial pilot and uses that knowledge to train organizations on how to use drones and properly merge the technology into their operations. Like Pincus, he has seen some hesitation from the security industry to embrace drones.

"I think a lot of the hesitation comes from the reality that there is a new liability that is being taken on," Olds says. "There's a big facet of this industry that is worried about the risks that come with operating unmanned aircraft. When you're talking about the ability to fly an aircraft that weighs 55 pounds—that's a significant system. If that were to fall out of the sky, it poses a major hazard."

Despite such concerns, Olds and Pincus agree that the benefits outweigh the challenges of integrating drones into a security organization.

"The ability to see and get actionable intelligence in the air above where security is being done is very exciting and new to the industry," Pincus says. "And with respect to the active shooter threats at concerts and events—I think the Las Vegas shooting put the spotlight on how vulnerable outdoor events and spectator sports are. Having an eye in the sky has become important for public safety."

Olds says that the key to successfully integrating a drone into an existing safety ecosystem is establishing a strong foundation.

"If you build the right foundation from the start, a program becomes easily scalable," Olds says. "In the security sector, there are a lot of different aircraft that meet different needs. It's important to understand the business use case, what you're going to use the equipment for, and being able to scale from that."     

Pincus agrees, noting that planning for how to integrate a drone into a security program should begin before the vehicle is purchased.

"Setting up a program requires putting all the pieces together of purchasing the right kind of drone—do you need a free-flying drone or a tethered one?" Pincus says. "What is the overall goal, what are you trying to do with a drone? You need to do a review of your site security plan and figure out where UAVs fit into that plan by assessing the threatscape."

Pincus recommends using case management reports, crime statistics, and other data to determine what kind of drone is needed, whether it's a free-flying drone that can be used periodically along a perimeter to check for anomalies, or a static, persistent aerial view for long stretches of time. Whether or not the drone can be integrated into the existing security operations center should also be considered, he says.

 Another aspect of building a strong program foundation involves in-depth training, which covers far more than just how to operate the equipment, Olds notes.

"We look at training from an aviation perspective—it's like ground school, you get them educated on airspace, weather, and different facets that affect the operations of the aircraft," Olds explains. "But then you have to train them on the ability to use their crew, the ability to make decisions while in flight—what are the emergency procedures? Education is key to implementation—and that's not even talking about the physical, hands- on training."

Once a security program has purchased the drone that best fits their needs and has undergone training, the next hurdle is becoming FAA compliant. The agency enacted regulations for drones that include obtaining certificates of authorization to operate the drone. An organization may need to obtain waivers from the FAA, including allowances to fly at night, beyond line of sight, or near airports.

Olds acknowledges that being FAA compliant may feel restricting to security managers who want to use them in those situations that require waivers.

"The true business use of this application of technology is beyond line of sight or other situations that require waivers. and all the FAA is trying to do is make sure that if a company is implementing this technology in a more complex way—which brings on more risks and hazards—that they are doing it in as safe a way as possible," Olds says.

Olds urges security directors to consider FAA's larger role in maintaining the national airspace, and the challenges that come with creating regulations for a rapidly growing industry with a wide array of applications and technology.

"What the FAA has done is take a stairstep approach to regulations in the industry," Olds explains. "The waiver process that is in place to ensure that when an organization says they're going to fly at night, or beyond line of sight, FAA is able to say, 'How are we going to ensure the safety of manned traffic that is already existing in that airspace?'"

Pincus says he believes federal UAV regulations will continue to evolve as more industries adopt the technology. Tools such as video analytics, facial recognition, and data collection that are currently used in integrated surveillance systems could be placed onboard the drone, allowing it to analyze situations—and sound the alarm—in real time.

"There's some of that type of soft- ware available, but it will become more important to tie it in to video management systems and security operations or alarm centers," Pincus explains. "That's where I see the industry going." ​ ​