Drone Surveillance

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer


Audrey Fraizer

If you’re like a lot of people who visited the Exhibit Hall, the presence of a booth manned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Investigations Section might have caught your curiosity. What was its connection to emergency dispatch? As it turns out, the FAA is involved in an emerging technology that impacts emergency communications, in terms of both public awareness and future operations: small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), including drones. According to FAA estimates, more than a million drones are flying in the national air space.

“People are worried about drones,” said Mike Lizarraga, FAA Special Agent, Northwest Mountain Region, Investigations Section. “Are they being harassed? Are organizations gathering information that is not theirs to collect?”

People have a right to the air, but there is no such thing as unregulated air space.

The FAA assists in the regulatory phase, but it is not the first responder following a complaint.

Law enforcement places a focus on the underlying complaint made to emergency communications. Existing laws cover potential criminal intent and unintentional actions (such as reckless endangerment). Using information gathered by the dispatcher, law enforcement can determine the type of operation and, then, talking to the operator, determine the appropriate actions.

In one example, the Chula Vista Police Department, California (USA), deploys drones in response to 911 calls. Depending on the location of the reported incident and severity, police release a drone, giving them a live view of what’s happening at the scene.

In addition to resolving drone complaints, the FAA is mindful of the potential drones have in public safety and law enforcement. Agencies can hire an FAA-certified drone pilot, or they can create their own programs to fly under the rules of small unmanned aircraft systems. To support emergency responders, the FAA can issue authorizations for responses to natural disasters and other emergencies. For more information, go to www.faa.gov/go/EmergencyWaiver.