Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

The 400 Foot View-Installment 1

This article and the following series of articles will be a forum and sounding board for all of us involved in exploring the relatively new and evolving technologies of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and how they can better serve public safety and our fellow public safety professionals. If you are already involved or are in the early stages of research and acquisition you will recognize the title, “The 400 Foot View” as the maximum allowable flight altitude above ground level that we are legally allowed to fly. We often hear from our politicians, bosses, and those in the know telling us about the 20,000-foot view or the 30,000-foot view meaning that we should look at “the big picture”. Well, you have probably found out that 400’ AGL is pretty dang high especially viewing the world below through a 20mm equivalent lens, and I know none of us has ever exceeded this hard ceiling, right? I plan for this series to explore our shared experiences with the pitfalls, successes and the psychologies of getting a UAS program off the ground, no pun intended, and making it a meaningful contributor to the numerous and various missions we are called upon to perform for our brothers and sisters on the job. With introductions and explanations out of the way I hope to explore this new world with you and share some personal and professional experiences as well as take feedback and input from readers that will add to the common good and further our shared knowledge base on this topic.

I would like to structure this series on the framework of the old familiar crawl, walk, run theory and to not focus on the technological aspects of equipment and hardware specifications, flight performance characteristics, or any other technical aspects that are so much better covered in glossy magazines and “techy” journals. I want to strike a chord with UAS program managers and those that are trying very hard to get UAS programs started in your department or agency. With that said, I will build progressively on the three ladder steps that I identify as, Acceptance, Integration and Implementation. As a nod to my fifth-grade math teacher I will name this our A/2.
Acceptance:We must all agree that your program will never take hold without the acceptance of the concept by your elected officials, department heads and maybe more importantly your boss. A start up program will require funding and the rule in government is that no program gets funded without some serious justification. If you are the boss and have a nice stash of money stuck away with complete autonomy and discretion over spending, bless you, I wish I were you, skip this article and tune in again next issue for step two. If not, bear with me and see if any of this rings a bell.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK. A great idea presented poorly is just another item on the agenda with a big red X through it. Read anything that you can get your hands on pertaining to other departments or agencies successfully using UAS and seek out others that are involved in the business or that are using UAS legally and responsibly in public safety or other endeavors. Read and become intimately familiar with the FAA regulations governing this type of flight. Seek out positive, like-minded people and begin networking to expand your knowledge and learn from their experiences. This research will prepare you for the questions that are about to be posed by the nervous Nellies, nay-sayers and old guards that will try and pinch your toes along the way. Plan ahead to foresee the questions that should be and need to be asked before leaping off the ledge into this program. Don’t rush this process as it may take a while to become the resident “expert”.

GET YOUR BOSS’S SUPPORT FIRST. We must all agree that without our direct supervisors support our plan and program will go nowhere. At best it gets shot down, at worst we are explaining why we jumped the chain of command and freelanced our way to a career dead end. You should be totally prepared and the first presentation should cover all of the bases from concept and benefits to up-front costs and future maintenance costs, plans for FAA approvals and applications, all the way to operational plans and documentation. Be precise and concise. If your presentation last longer than ten minutes you are getting well into the “snooze” zone. Don’t include 20 minutes of video downloaded from YouTube or video of you chasing your dog around the back yard with your kid’s “drone”. Be your serious business self since their first reaction will most likely be that you have come up with this crazy idea so that you can go out and play when you are supposed to be working. If he or she says “yes”, you are half way home.

SELL BUT DON’T OVER SELL. The tiger trap at this point is being tempted to over promise. You want the program and it is very tempting to say that the UAS will solve all our problems and will most likely solve problems that we don’t even know that we have yet. The UAS can see through walls, it can see through muddy water, it will completely replace manned aircraft in every situation, it costs absolutely nothing to fly, it requires no replacement parts, it is indestructible, it can be on the scene and in the air in 40 seconds, it can stay aloft for days, and it can fly in any weather. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, it smells good and it is curing global warming while it flies. Remember that everything you promise up front will be remembered and somebody out there will not fail to point out any short comings along the way. That’s why there are salespeople and a sales manager at used car lots. The salesperson says, “oh yeah, we can do that. No problem. I’m on your side, let’s make this deal happen”. Then the salesperson disappears to the sales manager’s office and comes back much later with the old, “Whew, I took a beating for you on this one, but our offer just isn’t going to work”. Don’t be that guy.

BUILD AN INHOUSE SUPPORT NETWORK. You already know who these people are. These are people within other departments that you have worked successfully with on other projects or that you have worked well with on emergency scenes or incidents. These are the people that don’t balk and pitch a fit when asked to take additional training classes or take on tasks outside their normal duties. These are the people with the positive attitudes and the people that are thinking about something besides their immediate deployment to Fort LazyBoy for the first cold one three minutes after their shift is over. I was personally fortunate to pull such a group together and form a Homeland Security Science and Technology Working Group under our Columbus Office of Homeland Security. I chose these members carefully and invited them to be a part of the group under special invitation of the Director. I chose the Police S.W.A.T commander, the head of the Sheriff’s Department, Special Operations Team, the head of the Police Department “technical” team, the Special Operations Coordinator for Fire and EMS, a Police Department Major over the 911 Center, and a member of the local HAM Radio group that I knew had extensive communications experience. These were all people that I trust and that I have worked with before. Each one carries the confidence of their colleagues as well as their superiors and all of them keeps one or two battle scars well hidden. After an organizational meeting and a second meeting at which I presented the idea to explore and investigate the possibility of entering into a UAS program they were charged with coming back to the third meeting with potential real world uses for such a technology. At the third meeting, I opened the floor for discussion and spent the next forty five minutes madly scribbling and scribing down their thoughts and ideas. I then drafted a letter of recommendation and endorsement of the idea to purchase a UAS on HS Science and Technology Working Group letterhead and with their concurrence I sent it along to our Homeland Security Director. This letter listed the potential uses for the UAS by all the represented departments with the understanding that if purchased it would be made available to all departments for use along with an approved, certified pilot. With the weight of the unanimous endorsement of this respected group the idea went from crazy to reality almost overnight. The Director was provided enough information and justification with this endorsement that it was easily approved by the governing body.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT AND BE READY TO BUY. The approval to purchase could come anytime, be ready. If you have done your homework and networked and studied you should already have a clear idea of what you want to buy. Be realistic and don’t go too cheap. You should have already probed the defenses enough to know about how much you could spend without breaking the bank. It is permissible to start out small with the idea of proving the concept so that an upgrade could be looked at in the future. By small I do not mean $ 125.00 at Best Buy. A great starter UAS can be purchased for three to four thousand dollars with additional battery chargers, additional batteries and a good quality carrying case.

This is a summary of ideas encompassed in the Acceptance portion of the AI2 that I experienced. There is absolutely no one right way to accomplish this. By the way, there are about a thousand wrong ways to do it so be ready. In the next installments, I will expound on the two I’s, integration and implementation. If you found this meaningful let me know, if you found it painful to read please remember, I’m just a pretty-fair stick jockey trying to write. Give me your thoughts and ideas, input, feedback, congratulations and kudos. No criticisms please, I have my filter set up to block profanities.

Thought for the day: A great UAV pilot is one that never puts himself or herself in a position to have to use great UAV piloting skills. Who am I kidding? We all know why they make after-market props. If you ain’t buying……you ain’t flyin.

Deputy Chief Riley Land is the Deputy Director, Emergency Management/Homeland Security for the Columbus, Georgia Fire and Emergency Medical Services. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Columbus College and has been employed with the Columbus Consolidated Government since 1992. He is a Certified Emergency Manager and is responsible for the emergency and disaster planning efforts for the city as well as the coordination of all city, state and federal resources that would respond to Columbus in the event of a major emergency or disaster. Other duties include the responsibility for planning and conducting training exercises for the City of Columbus. Deputy Chief Land has received specialized training in emergency management, trained with the F.B.I. and the Treasury Department in explosives post blast investigation, trained with the Department of Energy in radiological response to weapons of mass destruction incidents as well as training in response to chemical and biological weapons with the Department of Defense in the Federal Domestic Preparedness program. He currently holds an FAA license for UAS remote pilot. He purchased the city’s first UAS in September of 2015 and organized the Emergency Management/Homeland Security UAS program for the city. The programs aviation assets now include a DJI Phantom 3 Pro and a DJI Inspire with visible light camera and FLIR.

Click here to go back to the list of issues.