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Benefits and Risks of Unmanned Aerial Systems

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Benefits and Risks of Unmanned Aerial Systems

When new technologies become available, our role at the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is to understand how the Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) can use these technologies safely as well as any possible threats related to the new tech.

This is very much the case with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones. In recent history, the use of UAS by the military, federal and local government as well as by personal owners has proliferated. The Federal Aviation Administration is predicting combined total hobbyist and commercial UAS sales are expected to rise to 7 million in 2020. With the rapid growth of this technology, S&T is working with interagency, state and local entities to address the possible uses and to understand the risks.

That’s why we are in Dallas today at the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International to discuss the threats and solutions for UAS countermeasures. And in recent weeks, we conducted testing in New Orleans to track, locate and identify UAS in an urban environment—an important endeavor in understanding how to thwart nefarious activity in a variety of settings.

We are also playing a key policy development role for UAS. We are the DHS-designated leader of the interagency community addressing nefarious UAS use, and co-lead for the National Security Council’s technology and response work groups. We are also collaborating with international and domestic partners to share information and test data on this high-priority issue.

On the flip side of nefarious use, we know  UAS can help the security landscape and the work we do at DHS and across the HSE. We know this technology can be game changing for our operational components within the Department.

S&T is helping to understand how UAS can be a force multiplier, allowing agents and officers to remain at a safe distance while the technology helps gather information. For example, we know there is potential for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Coast Guard to use UAS in their missions to interdict wrongdoing at our nation’s borders and in our waters.

Furthermore, firefighters and police can use this technology in a variety of ways to keep them out of harm’s way at an incident. In fact, I will be in Boston on May 17 to take part in a roundtable with the Boston Fire Department to inform manufacturers of how firefighters can use this technology to stay safe when responding.

And S&T’s First Responders Group has assembled a small UAS working group with participation from state and local responders to understand their needs and to help in the development of testing scenarios pertinent to their work. FRG is also incorporating small UAS into its Spiral 2 Technology Experiment, part of its Next Generation First Responder Apex program, to capture data and first responder feedback regarding the collection and integration of real-time information across the incident and command management structures.

Our Office of Standards is also playing a critical role as it is working closely with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to develop operational standards that cover the minimum requirements relating to the operation, deployment, and implementation of UAS by emergency response departments and personnel.  On May 19, we’ll continue to talk standards at a meeting sponsored by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to explore establishing a new ANSI collaborative on UAS.

As a Directorate and a Department, we are making great progress on this very important issue for our operators to use this technology and to be prepared to counter the possible threats it brings.

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