The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing a wide variety of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) sensor platforms, including one that can determine whether individuals are armed or unarmed, for use by first responders and frontline homeland security professionals.
The testing is taking place at the Oklahoma Training Center for Unmanned Systems (OTC-UC), a unit of University Multispectral Laboratories (UML), a not-for-profit scientific institution operated for Oklahoma State University (OSU) by Anchor Dynamics, Inc. UML is a “Trusted Agent” for the federal government, technology developers and operators.
DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Borders and Maritime Security Division’s Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (RAPS) testing program is evaluating numerous SUA and sensor systems to identify possible applications for first responders, including search-and-rescue scenarios, response to radiological and chemical incidents and fire response and mapping. In addition, the testing will help to determine whether SUAs are suitable for use by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and US Coast Guard to provide lower altitude, quick response situational awareness in tactical situations.
SUAS sensor platforms are being tested for use by “first responder and homeland security operational communities” that “can distinguish between unarmed and armed (exposed) personnel,” as well as conducting detection, surveillance, tracking and laser designation of targets of interest at stand-off ranges, according to the RAPS Test Plan obtained by Homeland Security Today.
There’s also a requirement to test SUAS sensors for how well they can capture crime and accident “scene data with still-frame, high definition photos.”
But there’s nothing nefarious about having these sensor capabilities on SUAs for the needs of law enforcement and other first responders, said a RAPS program official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the program publicly. DHS’s chief privacy official concluded that the testing program posed no privacy issues in the Nov. 16 Privacy Impact Assessment for the RAPS Project.
The RAPS Test Plan also involves testing sensor suites to “enhance the search and rescue capabilities of first responders by increasing [their] situational awareness.” And to that end, SUA sensors are being tested for their ability to “locate and provide the position of targets of interest satisfactorily for search and rescue personnel in a variety of terrain and day conditions.”
To enhance fire and disaster response capabilities of first responders by increasing their situational awareness, SUA sensors are being tested for their ability to locate and provide the position of fire or hot spots despite the presence of objects that obscure their line-of-site; locate and provide the position and concentration of chemical agents; and locate and provide the position and concentration of radiological agents.
The RAPS Test Plan explained that “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems may soon become valuable tools for first and emergency responders and for those responsible for US border security.” It emphasized that “SUAS can provide tactical, rapid-response capabilities and much better situational awareness before field officers and agents respond to and engage in potentially dangerous operations.”
The test plan explained that “Within the United States, almost 50,000 police and fire departments exist but only about 300 (less than 1 percent) have aviation departments, owing primarily to the significant cost of acquiring, operating and maintaining manned fixed-wing and rotary-wing platforms. The estimated cost per flight hour for these assets is 300 times more expensive than commercially available SUAS which can be operated at costs lower than those of a typical police cruiser. But for state, county or city entities to become potential users of SUAS, their adoption must be justifiable and affordable. Improved sensor and platform capabilities, and economies of scale, now bring SUAS within reach of the budgets of many small first responder organizations.”
“Considering the size and diversity of the user communities targeted by this program,” the RAPS Test Plansaid, “our approach concerning SUAS requirements is to focus primarily on advancing the near-term transition of good, affordable SUAS capabilities using relatively mature solutions. Working closely with senior law enforcement and fire operators in the field, we derived high-level SUAS needs tied to notional, top-priority scenarios for SUAS that, if realized, may or would provide good value to users — depending partly on the results of testing as envisioned” in the RAPS testing plan.
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Contributed by Anthony Kimery of hstoday.us.