A Drone (UAV) Security Team provide greater situational awareness and can deliver a superior level of holistic service at a fraction of the cost (versus a traditional amalgamation of CCTV, guarding presence and mobile response). High risk environments or areas previously inaccessible to foot or mobile patrols are now included as routine patrols within the security plan, therefore significantly improving the security posture of a facility, site or estate.
This article assumes that the reader has made an informed decision and is therefore moving to a procurement stage. The information below is offered pro bono to supplement criteria, benchmarking and help shape the decision modelling process.
The operator should hold a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This will identify what permissions the operator must abide by; such as distances, aircraft categories (weight and type) and operating periods (day/night).
The operator (or payload operator if dual operator controls are proposed) should hold a Security Industry Authority (SIA) CCTV license. A public space CCTV license is required when either a fixed or PTZ system is used to actively monitor or track members of the public (on private and public land) to guard premises against disorder or to protect individuals from assault.
It is recommended that the Drone Security Team be SIA licensed to enable them to actively engage in security related incidents. The nature of the task will determine what category of SIA license would be required. I.e. If the Drone Security Team are operating on a residential estate, to guard one or more individuals against assault or against injuries that might be suffered in consequence of the unlawful conduct of others, then a close protection license would be required. If no physical involvement from the Drone Security Team is required, i.e. it is in support of an existing security provision whom will respond to incidents, then no SIA license is required (excluding the SIA CCTV license, stated above).
It is best practice that all individuals employed in an environment where the security and safety of people, goods or property is of requirement, or where such security screening is in the public interest, then they should be vetted to BS7858. The Drone Security Team may already hold SIA licenses (which confirm that the SIA has already conducted this in order to award the license), therefore negating the need to conduct further checks. If no licenses are held, then the service provider should hold BS7858 vetting certificates for all proposed personnel.
The operator should be registered with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), conduct a comprehensive privacy impact assessment (justification on the use of a drone), make a concerted effort to inform and advice the public and minimise collateral intrusion, as generally; drones are considered as highly privacy intrusive (the likelihood of recording individuals inadvertently is high).
The operator should be fully insured for their scope of work. The nature of the task will determine the level of insurance cover required however generally this shall be advised as no less than £10m (public liability).
The Drone Security Team should have considered the practicality and range of equipment required in order to accomplish the objectives set out in the Service Level Agreement (SLA).
Aircraft and sensors may need to operate in both day and night (therefore providing an optical zoom camera for night operations is pointless) and in changing weather conditions (including wind, snow and rain). The Drone Security Team should be equipped to provide a realistic and holistic approach to service delivery and continuity, this should be measured against KPIs.
If operating in open areas of mass crowd congregation and/or areas of increased RF fratricide, the use of tethered systems should also be reviewed and objectively considered. (This subject will be covered in depth in a later article). The same principle can also be applied to parachute recovery systems.
Display screens should be of high resolution and illumination if operating during daylight hours, particular when sun glare is high. The use of tablets is discouraged due to their lower intensity and inability to swap batteries, should the battery life diminish before it can be recharged. The same battery consideration should be applied to the Ground Control Station (GCS aka controller), GCS’ fitted with an inbuilt rechargeable battery can only sustain operations for a set period of time (2-4 hours).
Crew welfare is of paramount importance. The operators should have sufficient shelter, shade, comfort, provisions and a remote work station to operate from. Every consideration into this should be offered i.e. utilising white light at night then proceeding outside into the darkness will temporarily restrict/blind a drone operator and observers’ vision, therefore delay/suspend operations and/or increase the likelihood of an accident due to pilot error.
Radio communications should be audible and unhindered, furthermore they should not interfere with the flight controls of the drone. The nature of the task will likely dictate the type required i.e. noise cancelling (high decibel environments) or covert style unobtrusive systems. Ease of communications during high stress periods is an important factor i.e. utilising large PTT presells to ensure accurate and unhindered transmissions and instructions.
Service providers may wish to maintain their corporate brand awareness however it should still be considerate and practical, which will likely be determined by the nature of the task. The potential risk of head and eye injuries form operating drones is significantly increased within the cordon area, primarily during take-off and landing stages.
As a minimum, operators should be equipped with eye protection to standards EN 166:2001 (furthermore with polarization/UV protective ocular filters EN 172) and head protection to standards EN 397:2012. Additional PPE may be required in order to ensure protection and health of personnel, including: Weather protective clothing, fall arrest equipment, hearing protection, respiratory protective equipment, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and flame-retardant clothing.
Drone Security operations are meticulously planned to minimise disruption and maximise its effect on the security plan as a whole.
Planning may require CAA or NATS consultations, Enhanced Non-Standard Flight (ENSF) permissions or NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) to be dispensed. Every detail of the operation should be evidenced and produced prior to deployment, including extensive risk assessments for effects on the team, the client and third parties.
The Service provider should attend the lead up multi agency meetings to ensure that any changes or additions are included and considered within the Drone Security plans also. Furthermore, adaptation to infrastructure may need considering, to support Drone security operations.
Infrastructure to support Drone Security operations is likely to include; a clearly identifiable contained cordon, a dedicated position within a Control room, undisturbed power supply and lighting to the LZ (Landing/Take-off Zone), data connection/IP connections and encoding, radio communication tower/repeater and ATV/support utility vehicles.
Operating a drone within a security function is only as beneficial as the operators experience in providing protective services. Safe flights, working knowledge and smooth control over an aircraft is of course important, but the operator’s ability and judgement to quickly identify and escalate potential threats in situ is equally as essential. These skills are derived from operating in environments whereby the theatre can quickly and drastically change, therefore the operators proactively are engaged in identifying suspicious behaviour and recognising the warning signs prior to such.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy”
Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (26 October 1800)
To paraphrase the above quotation; planning is critically important to succeed with any objective, however; should not be relied upon solely. Drone Security Teams should derive from security, military and/or police backgrounds, with proven and extensive experience of providing protective services in arduous environments. The experience of such provides the team with a heightened ability to adapt and overcome, minimising down time and ensuring maximum productivity.
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