In his latest blog for Infologue.com, Stuart Lodge, Chief Executive of Lodge Service, discusses drones. Stuart writes: “An aerial ‘guard’ that can monitor large sites and carry out its duties anywhere, at any time and requires no rest, other than the occasional battery recharge: are drones the future for site patrols and perimeter guarding on large external sites?
At Lodge Service we monitor and review new technologies that can enable us all to work smarter and provide data to our intelligence centre from client locations. Drones are increasingly viable for CCTV signalling input – but should the security community be seriously considering their use now, and are the benefits proven?
Firstly there are the regulatory issues to consider. Currently the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK prohibits the flying of any large drone over or within 150m of built-up areas. The CAA requires operators to have permission and also demonstrate basic flying skills and in some cases they must have a constant line of sight.
For smaller unmanned aircraft, weighing less than 20kg, the users need permission from the CAA if the proposed use is for commercial work or if flown within a congested area or close to people or property.
The wider commercial applications of drone technology are likely to drive development. There is a particular interest by potential users for goods deliveries such as Amazon who are, it is reported, recruiting UK drone experts to help with a possible delivery service.
The BBC reports that Amazon’s ‘Prime Air’ air service will use small drones to deliver packages up to 2.3kg in weight to customers within 30 minutes of an order being placed.
Meanwhile we hear that Imperial College is planning to create the UK’s most advanced drone research lab.
Turning to security applications, there is already major adoption by foreign governments: drones are proving invaluable to patrol and protect large territories which might otherwise require manned aircraft – at clearly much lower expense.
The US government is now patrolling half of the US-Mexico border with drones, reports the Associated Press. The unmanned aircraft are the same Predator model used for strike operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, only equipped with cameras instead of missiles.
In Cape Town, South Africa, the city administration is planning to use drones to monitor land occupations, crime, scrap yards suspected of harbouring stolen copper, shack fires and major incidents.
In June 2014, a Pretoria-based company, made international headlines for developing a drone – marketed as a “riot control copter” – capable of spraying tear gas and fire rubber bullets at protesters. The company said that an unnamed mining company had ordered 25 units.
So adoption of drone technology by the UK security industry seems probable: it offers a low-cost, flexible method of monitoring large areas, as well as roofs and isolated spaces within perimeters, car parks and event arenas, for example.
However there is one particular issue of growing concern to the security industry identified recently by a University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report.
Police in Essex, Merseyside, Staffordshire, Wiltshire and the West Midlands have used drones for surveillance, and guidelines must be looked at governing how and when they can be used, the report says.
It seems inevitable that the use of drones and similar unmanned technology in the UK will increase over the course of the next 20 years, raising “significant safety, security, and privacy concerns”, the report says.
Drones could be used by terrorist groups to attack public events. It called for “urgent” measures to safeguard British airspace and privacy.
The research into Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) was led by Sir David Omand, a former head of the UK’s intelligence centre, GCHQ: “The security threat posed by individuals misusing RPA is a serious one, whether for criminal or terrorist purposes… more thought needs to be given to their employment for malign purposes in the domestic environment.”
“Vulnerable targets might be hardened to withstand attack from outside, but it is entirely possible that in a public space like a shopping centre or sporting stadium, an attack could be launched from within.”
The reports identifies particular areas of vulnerability; crowds at sporting events exposed to the threat of chemical or biological agents by terrorists, for example. It is a threat that the UK authorities took seriously during the 2012 Olympics.
RPAs are also ideal ‘lookouts’ for burglars, train robbers and poachers, the Security Impact of Drones report says.
So the issue for the security industry is not just about how to employ drone technology, taking account of safety and compliance issues, but also how to identify and counter their use by criminals.
As an industry, we need to be considering counter-measures now, even as we plan for the adoption of drone technology.
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