Public Safety Drone Survey Addresses COVID, Data Security

Public Safety

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A groundbreaking survey of public safety agencies reveals new data about the use of drones during the COVID crisis and data security concerns surrounding their current UAV programs.

Commissioned by the non-profit Airborne Incident Response Team in conjunction with its parent group DRONERESPONDERS, the study surveyed 300 U.S.-based, law enforcement, fire and emergency services personnel. Questions covered topics related to drone programs in public safety agencies, including UAS Program Composition, Budgeting and Finance, Flight Operations, Data Security, Legislative Outlook and COVID-19.

COVID

In the arena of pandemic response, only 25 percent of public safety agencies surveyed had flown drone missions in direct response to the pandemic. Most missions were classified as Public Information/Media Support (48 percent), while 25 percent of flights involved Social Distancing Monitoring/Enforcement. None of the agencies reported using drones for decontamination or disinfecting.

“The escalating costs associated with combating COVID-19 are already reshaping government budgets at every level,” Christopher Todd, Executive Director, AIRT said before the survey’s release.

“We need to decipher how this will impact the public safety UAS sector so both UAS program managers and solutions providers can adjust their projections if needed.”

With the release of the survey, Todd learned the answer is: not much impact. Over 35 percent of respondents said the pandemic would not negatively affect public safety drone program funding. Around 25 percent predicted a moderate impact while 20 percent expected a severe downturn in significantly reduced budgets and bans on new purchases.

Data Security

Concerns over drone data security have been up in the air for the past several months, with Chinese manufacturer DJI facing federal scrutiny amid recent discussions over the U.S. Drone Origin Security Enhancement Act.

Public safety agencies are slightly more concerned about drone data breaches when compared to 2019. When asked last year, “Are you concerned about the security of your drone data and any potential vulnerabilities within the UAS or related software that might allow a foreign company or government to receive sensitive information surrounding your domestic flight operations?” around 55 percent of respondents said “No.”

In the 2020 spring survey, public safety agencies were asked: “How concerned are you about the security of your drone data and any potential security vulnerabilities within the UAS or related software that might allow a foreign company or government to receive sensitive information surrounding your domestic flight operations?”

Only 13 percent are extremely concerned. Other responses broke down as: very concerned (12 percent), moderately concerned (26 percent), slightly concerned (28 percent) and not at all concerned (21 percent).

“The goal for this latest research initiative is to conduct a deeper dive into how public safety agencies and emergency management stakeholders are using UAS and related technologies,” Todd said. “We also want to better understand if the needs of first responders are being met by the commercial drone industry.”

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Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.

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