5 things you need to know about security and drones

Security and drones

Drones have been in the news a lot recently – especially after a Heathrow plane was involved in a near miss with an unidentified drone. Joel takes a look at what the security industry and security installers need to know about the use of drones and their rising popularity.

Drones are becoming more and more popular by the day: retailer Maplin reported drone sales had increased by 450% in the run up to Christmas 2014. They’re readily accessible to the general public and amateur photographers with big retailers stocking them at reasonable prices – you can pick up a basic model from around £300.

With Maplin describing drones as “ready to fly, easy to carry, with a long flight time and super fun” it’s easy to see these pieces of technology are being targeted at novice users, and perhaps those with little to no knowledge of the security implications.

Whether it’s with regards to the regulations on drone usage or the pros and cons on using drone technology for security, there are a number of factors the security industry need to wise up on to stay ahead of this increasing trend:

1. Keep drones on your radar

Although drones becoming commonplace in the security industry seems a long way off, it’s important to keep the technology on your radar so you don’t miss any potential opportunities.

Drone experts are predicting that drones will soon be working in conjunction with other surveillance equipment just like body worn technology and possibly even automatic number plate recognition cameras. As these technologies grow it’s likely that we’ll see new possibilities for tackling crime and our industry, but privacy issues will still be a big concern as surveillance becomes more integrated.

With all this in mind it’s clear that drone technology is on the rise and that it’s potential for surveillance could mean new opportunities for CCTV installers. Risk UK recently reported that in September the “Civil Aviation Authority released figures showing that over 300 companies have now been given permission to operate UAS (Unmanned Aerial Surveillance) in the UK”. This clearly shows there is increasing demand in the private sector.

This article on US website The Hill takes a look at just a few of the industries that could potentially be interested in drone technology, with an interesting point that surveillance companies may look to drones to roam around facilities to eliminate blind spots.

2. Read the CAA guidelines

Whilst you’re looking ahead in the industry to drone technology it’s important to consider the fact that it’s not just the CCTV code of practice that you need to consider. The Civil Aviation Authority has also released some guidelines on the flying and using of drones.

The guidelines focus on the safe use of drones, with specific regulations surrounding congested area operations and general safety rules. After the too close for comfort incident at Heathrow, it’s clear that misused drones could pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the general public. With some drone experts highlighting that a drone simply falling out of the air could cause a fair bit of damage.

Beyond the safety concerns, it’s also worth noting that drones could potentially impact on national security. Whether that’s for better or for worse. The University of Birmingham recently completed a report on the use of drone technology that concluded ‘make the case for drones as a key part of an integrated UK security policy’. But within that report there are findings to suggest that drones pose a possible terrorist threat to the UK.

3. The benefits for crowd control

So, I’ve talked about using drones to improve the security of facilities and that drones could be a revenue stream for security professionals and installers. However, the capabilities of drones in security stretch beyond that.

Drones are also being hailed as the future of crowd (or even riot) control, with extreme examples being highlighted. For example, Wired.co.uk focusses on a ‘riot control drone armed with guns and lasers’.

In fact, when put a little more simply (without the guns and lasers – sorry!) drones can help monitor the movement of a crowd, predict the course of their progress and highlight particular ‘hot spots’ of trouble. All they need to do is fly over the crowds and monitor their movements.

Such technology could, in fact, prove to be revolutionary if used well and it could have been particularly influential during incidents like the London riots in 2011.

4. Will drones become the future of CCTV security?

We know that fixed CCTV cameras – particularly with IP technology – offer benefits beyond drones as we know them now. For example, reliability could be an issue: will the drones battery life be trustworthy? It could cause endless issues if a power supply cut whilst monitoring a site. Moreover, is the lighting advanced enough to provide surveillance during the high-risk nighttime hours?

Internet speed and connectivity could also be an issue. Getting footage to a remote monitoring station as quickly as possible is essential for CCTV to be successful. Will drones have that capability?

5. Know your data protection laws

As security professionals we know that private CCTV must stick to data protection laws. Yet with drones, and a number of amateurs using the technology, these laws are at risk of being forgotten. The article ‘Filming using drones must comply with data protection laws, says ICO’ explains the Information Commissioner’s Office’s stance on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV):

“Individuals may not always be directly identifiable from the footage captured by UAS, but can still be identified through the context they are captured in or by using the devices ability to zoom in on a specific person,” the ICO said in its new code. “As such, it is very important that you can provide a strong justification for their use.”

These comments highlight how important it is to stay ahead of the data protection laws, whether you’re using well-known, familiar equipment or newer devices like drones.

So that’s my summary of five points I think security professionals need to keep an eye on when it comes to drone technology. Have you used a drone? Or do you have any specific concerns? Leave a comment below, it would be great to hear your thoughts.

For now though, I thought you might like to check out some of the ‘best drone photos of 2014’ as featured on Mashable!

If you’re interested in personal CCTV, beyond just the use of the drones, have a read of my blog Personal CCTV: Sousveillance and Privacy.


Featured image: Creative Commons “Drone and Moon” by Don McCullough licensed under CC BY 2.0