With more sophisticated enemies and threat vectors in today’s security landscape comes the need for more sophisticated defenses. For defensive, proactive and efficient security operations, security professionals can use a number of technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and drones or robotics.
Some people may have seen images of faceless Al Qaeda and ISIS chiefs being taken out by predator drones overseas. Also prevalent are drone images such as aerial selfies, real estate advertisements and car dealership promos taken by amateur pilots. Within the security industry, there are many useful applications for drones.
Take public safety agencies’ use of drones, for example. More than 2,000 first responder agencies across the country have begun using the aerial platforms to detect hotspots in fires, look for lost hikers, or help SWAT teams execute high-risk warrants.
So how can drones be useful for private or security teams? The first step in evaluating whether a drone will be useful to an organization is to figure out potential use cases.
There are traditional applications and deployments of drones to enhance the physical security of facilities using thermal, zoom and other highly-sophisticated sensors for surveillance, tracking assets at a job site, or even tracking criminals stealing those assets.
Such security technology combined with AI can also be used for carrying payloads across large tool yards, quantifying progress of a building project, making 3D models of the organization’s facilities, or regular patrols of a property’s perimeter.
Once security leaders have identified how their organization can use drone technology, the next step is to pick the right one.
Drones range in price from $400 to $4 million; therefore, security leaders should focus first on assessing which drone capabilities they need before considering the cost.
If the application calls for indoor flying, the smaller, the better. If the application involves heavy payloads, the biggest option is best. The drone itself is less important than the sensor on it, so understanding which aircraft can carry the payload necessary and how long it can carry that sensor is critical.
Battery technology hasn’t progressed nearly as much as other technology has progressed, but on average, one battery will power a drone for about 20 minutes. Drones that carry two batteries last about 40 minutes or so. Alternatively-powered options like tethered drones exist, which can fly indefinitely, but can’t move around much. While tethered drones would be less useful for perimeter sweeps or patrols, they can be ideal for fixed-location operations where moving around isn’t critical.
Additionally, there are gas- and hydrogen-powered aircraft that offer much longer endurance, but they can be more complicated to operate, more difficult to maintain and harder to fuel.
After security teams weigh the options of what they need, the next consideration should be the legal and regulatory aspects of operating a drone.
Organizations within the private sector, whether for- or non-profit, fall into the category of commercial drone operation. Each operator that flies commercially is required to do so under 14 CFR Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. The regulation states that pilots are subject to a 60-question knowledge test to be certified. Once passed, that individual will receive a “Remote Pilot in Command” license with a small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) rating — like a regular pilot’s license but restricted to small unmanned aircraft.
A Part 107 certification comes with specific rules. The drone must be under 55 pounds in total, be operated within line-of-sight of the operator in uncontrolled airspace, not over people, and in daylight hours only — unless they’ve been specifically trained for nighttime use and possess special lighting equipment on the drone. Many of these conditions can be set aside by applying for various waivers, each with its own set of complexities and rules.
Those organizations that qualify as “public operators” — typically police, fire and emergency management agencies licensed by a state — have the ability to operate under Part 107 or a Public Agency Certificate of Authorization (COA). The COA allows those agencies some flexibility in the rules and allows them to self-certify operators without going through the Part 107 process. It should be noted, however, that many of these qualifying agencies elect to have pilots adhere to the Part 107 rules despite not being required to do so.
The last consideration for enterprise security teams considering a drone program is program operations. Once the organization has certified drone pilots, it is best practice to designate a program manager that is responsible for keeping appropriate records, ensuring pilots have the right training to operate the organizations’ aircraft, and keeping that training current. Training is critical to continued drone programs.
Good training must not only focus on knowing the rules, but learning how best to fly the aircraft, maintain it, operate in emergency scenarios and make a safe call about when it is, and isn’t, appropriate to fly.
Security leaders also need to account for a number of other considerations, such as UAS liability insurance, insurance from damages to the aircraft itself, data retention and management, and training for those who need to interpret the data to get useful information from the technology.
And like any other technology, “one and done” is difficult in the UAS world, as new aircraft, sensors and software are coming onto the market every day. Therefore, it’s also important to understand that whatever drone an organization purchases today may not be the best security tool in the future.
The bottom line is this — incorporating drones into an organization’s arsenal can be a huge benefit, but it is not something to be undertaken lightly. The appropriate aircraft and sensors, the right pilots to fly them with the right training, and the ability to understand the data they collect are all critical keys to using drones successfully within an enterprise security program.
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