Understanding the Risks and Opportunities Presented by Drones

Police departments and private citizens must learn how to safely and appropriately operate unmanned aerial vehicles.

It seems like every time I turn around, I hear about drones (also called unmanned aerial vehicles). No longer are they only being deployed by the military to fight Al Qaeda and ISIS in faraway places like Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For the past several years, domestic law enforcement agencies have been weighing the pros and cons of drone deployment, and private companies like Amazon are considering the use of UAVs to deliver their products.

American consumers have also been getting into the act. In fact, according to the Unmanned Vehicle University, many drones were given as holiday gifts this year.

The upside for campus police and security departments in deploying drones is quite clear. UAVs can more easily monitor wide swaths of hard-to-reach locations and open-air parking lots, as well as provide situational awareness during emergencies. Unlike fixed video surveillance systems, drones can be deployed at a moment’s notice with no installation costs.

On the consumer side, operating a UAV sounds like a lot of fun.

The Unmanned Vehicle University based in Phoenix, however, points out that there are several challenges and safety concerns we must consider now that thousands of new drones will soon be flown by fledgling operators for the first time.

“People must realize that many of the UAVs being given as gifts this year are not toys,” says Darrell Slaughter, director of business development for the school. “Many are capable of causing serious injury and damage to property. People will get hurt if these potentially dangerous devices are operated in an unsafe manner.”

Additionally, UAVs with cameras installed on them could be used by private citizens to invade the privacy of their neighbors, not to mention interrupt or jeopardize sensitive law enforcement operations.

This past fall, a University of Texas student was arrested after he flew his drone over the Longhorn’s home football opener. Needless to say, a UAV used in this fashion could have posed a serious risk to game attendees if the student operating it had devious intentions.

The FAA currently requires private operators to fly their UAVs below 400 feet and within their site. The agency is also developing additional rules and regulations that I’m certain will cover safety issues. Hopefully the new regs will address privacy and other concerns as well. Until then, both private operators and law enforcement should use common sense when flying their UAVs.

Gene Payson, director of flight training at Unmanned Vehicle University says that, “High priority must be placed on avoiding causing injury to others. Do not fly near airports or people. This is very dangerous should there be a loss of control of the aircraft from a variety of causes. Even the best pilots experience mechanical failures.”

Campus law enforcement agencies considering the adoption of drones should also be mindful of when and where they are used. Policies and procedures should be developed so that UAVs are only deployed for appropriate law enforcement purposes. Every effort should be made to ensure citizen privacy is upheld.

UAVs and drones appear to now be a fact of life for our nation. Campus protection professionals, administrators and the general public would be wise to become knowledgeable about their safe and appropriate operation.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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