Are Drones a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

12 12 2012

The following article was first published in Governing magazine, and then later in Emergency Management magazine.  Written by Eli Richman, and published by Emergency Management on November 30, 2012, the article provides an overview of the use of drones by emergency responders in the United States.  It is becoming apparent that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, can assist law enforcement agencies in a variety of activities.  As pointed out in the article, perhaps it could be helpful in finding a lost hiker in a national forest.  Closer to home, perhaps a drone could have been used a few years ago when local responders attempted to find a missing kayaker lost on a stream in Fort Bend County?

Drone owned by Montgomery County TexasFire first responders could use such a tool also; perhaps for getting a birds-eye view of a hazardous materials incident or major fire.  Think about how valuable the use of such equipment might be as hundreds of responders attempt to fight a raging wildfire in close proximity to a subdivision.  Emergency managers could use an unmanned aerial vehicle for conducting damage assessments after a hurricane.  It would seem to be an efficient way of getting needed information without putting responder lives at risk.  As a matter of fact, it has recently become known that NASA is readying a couple of experimental UAVs to track future storms.  Why?  To assist communities in preparing for the storms.  

For more information on NASA’s use of drones:   http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/10/hurricane-hunters/

But, the use of drones is not without controversy.  Many individuals have privacy concerns, thinking that use of such equipment is confirmation that “Big Brother” lives and is trying to gain personal information from innocent citizens.  In addition, some politicians have indicated that the purchase of drones with homeland security monies is a suspect expenditure.  Hopefully, any legislation related to government’s use of drone technology will incorporate logical regulations that will still allow first responders to use UAVs for saving lives, arresting criminals, and assisting responders to extinguish fires.

No jurisdiction within Fort Bend County owns a drone.  As you will note in Mr. Richman’s article, Montgomery County does have a drone in their equipment inventory.  What does Fort Bend County do when we need to get a birds-eye view?  Probably, the first request would be to the Houston Police Department; we would request for assistance from one of Houston’s police helicopters.  Another possibility, would be utilizing the Civil Air Patrol (CAP); today, Texas has 3500 volunteer members who are active in Civil Air Patrol.  CAP is an outstanding resource for conducting inland search and rescue missions.  And, of course, contacting Montgomery County, and requesting mutual aid assistance would be another option.  Over the last several years, counties in the Houston area collaborate closely in matters of emergency response.

So, to give you an overview of this topic, please read the attached article.  It provides a balanced viewpoint on the issue of using drones.  If you have any thoughts on the subject, please feel free to make a comment on the blog site.

 

Drones:  The Future of Law Enforcement?

Eli Richman

Law enforcement officials say that’s not their intention, and they couldn’t use drones that way even if they wanted to. “We did not obtain this for the purpose of surveillance,” says McDaniel. “Our ShadowHawk’s maximum aloft time is only two hours and 20 minutes, and you would never fly it for that length of time to begin with.” FAA regulations prohibit drones from flying higher than 400 feet, and they require that drones remain in line of sight of the user. In other words, says McDaniel, if a drone’s around, you’ll know it. “It’s not like its 30,000 feet up in the air and you can’t see it and you can’t hear it. It’s going to be visible to the naked eye, and you’re certainly going to hear it.”

Current drone technology may not lend itself to stealth surveillance, but that’s why privacy legislation should be passed now, before it becomes a problem, say advocates. “While drones are new and novel and everybody’s worried about the privacy issue,” says Stanley, “we need to put in place some farseeing rules and protections that will cover every possible evolution of this technology.”

So far, no state has passed legislation regulating drones, although New Jersey took a preliminary step in June by introducing a bill that outlined warrant procedures for law enforcement’s use of drones. In August, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft. The guidelines call for transparency in how the vehicles are used, and say that any images captured by aerial drones and retained by police should be open to the public. In cases where drones might collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing, or if they will intrude on reasonable expectations of privacy, guidelines suggest police should obtain a prior search warrant. Those instructions aren’t binding, but they’re a good start, privacy advocates say.

At the federal level, the ACLU has recommended that government use of drones be banned except in very specific cases. One piece of legislation has been introduced in Congress by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which would ban domestic governmental drone use except in patrolling the border or in high-risk security situations. The bill currently lacks bipartisan support. While the ACLU says the bill isn’t perfect, its legislative counsel Chris Calabrese says the bill is “starting in the right place, and we’re going to work with him as he moves forward.”

In addition to questions about privacy, another concern is drones’ security. First, there’s the immediate worry that comes from allowing individually operated aircraft in domestic airspace, particularly in a post-9/11 world. That concern was borne out last year, when a man in Massachusetts was thwarted after attempting to equip several drones with C4 explosives and fly them into the Capitol and Pentagon. Second, civilian drones can be hacked, or “spoofed,” by a counterfeit GPS signal. (Unlike military GPS signals, civilian signals are not encrypted.) The spoofed drone thinks it’s in a different place, allowing the hacker to take rudimentary control of it. In a demonstration in June, the University of Texas’ Humphreys led a team of researchers who successfully hacked into one drone’s navigation system.

Regulating this type of vehicle typically would fall under the purview of Homeland Security, but that department has so far declined to regulate the UAV industry. That’s a major problem, says Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management. “I find this to be a bit of a ‘nobody’s minding the store’ type scenario,” McCaul says. “No federal agency’s willing to step up to the plate, and when you have the [Government Accountability Office] saying the DHS needs to do it, I tend to agree with them.” Without regulation at the federal level, security oversight could fall to individual states.

For his part, Humphreys says he’s not overly worried about drone security. Spoofing a UAV requires a high level of expertise and very expensive software. But as with the privacy issues, it’s an issue that almost certainly will be exacerbated as technology advances. “What my nightmare scenario would be,” he says, “is looking forward three or four years, where we have now adopted the UAVs into the national airspace without addressing this problem. Now the problem is scaling up, so that we have more heavy UAVs, more capable UAVs and yet this particular vulnerability isn’t addressed.”

There’s no question that unmanned aerial vehicles could forever change crime fighting, disaster response and a host of other functions. Given the push from the federal government, it seems inevitable that drones will increasingly be a part of police assets around the country. But it’s important to address concerns over privacy and security now, says Humphreys. “Let’s let it go ahead,” he says. “But let’s be vigilant.”

Advertisements




New Hurricane App Brings Red Cross Safety Information to Smart Phones

16 08 2012

A new American Red Cross Hurricane App puts help right into the hands of people who live in or visit hurricane prone areas. Best of all, it’s free and available for both iPhones and Android phones. To download the app click on the following link, http://www.redcross.org/hurricaneapp

The Red Cross app gives people real time information for hurricane threats where they are located-whether it’s the community where they live or the places they love to vacation. The app has a number of features that let people share vital information with their Facebook friends and Twitter followers. People who need to get out of harm’s way quickly can tap the “I’m Safe” button to post a message to their social accounts, letting friends and loved ones know they are okay. These features that will help friends and families stay in touch during hurricanes, reducing much of the fear and uncertainly for loved ones and property owners far away.

The Red Cross app also gives people the ability to receive location-based NOAA weather alerts for the United States and its territories and share those on their social networks too. Even if someone doesn’t live full-time in a threatened area, users can receive alerts for vacation spots, places where they winter or where loved ones live. It’s a feature that can give peace of mind to frequent travelers and those with elderly relatives or college students in coastal areas.

Other features include:

• Toolkit with a flashlight, a strobe light and an audible alarm;
• Locations of open Red Cross shelters;
• Simple steps and checklists to create a family emergency plan; and
• Preloaded preparedness content that gives instant access to critical action steps even without mobile connectivity.

National Red Cross experts in health, safety, and preparedness have thoroughly reviewed and field tested the information and advice provided in this app. The Hurricane App comes on the heels of the release of highly successful Red Cross First Aid App, which has had nearly 600,000 downloads in its first six weeks. While apps can prepare you for disasters, downloading the First Aid app is not a substitute for training. To learn more about Red Cross First Aid and CPR/AED courses or to register, visit redcross.org/takeaclass

 





Congress Fails to Resolve Geospatial Info-sharing Issues

3 05 2012

Below is an article by Anthony Kimery, HSToday.US, related to the problems involved in coordinating geo-spatial information from all levels of government as well as the private sector.  In the article, published today (May 3, 2012), Kimery summarizes a recent report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).  No easy solutions are noted; and this is particularly significant because of the importance that such data provides emergency managers and first responders during disasters.

Congress has recognized the challenge of coordinating and sharing geospatial data from the local, county, and state level with the national level, and vice versa, but “challenges to coordinating how geospatial data are acquired and used — collecting duplicative data sets, for example — at the local, state and federal levels, in collaboration with the private sector, are not yet resolved,” concluded a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

Geospatial data can be vitally important to first responders and emergency managers, for example, during times of crisis – including a catastrophic terrorist attack or major natural disaster.

The report, Issues and Challenges for Federal Geospatial Information, written by Peter Folger, a CRS specialist in energy and natural resources policy, stated that, “The cost to the federal government of gathering and coordinating geospatial information has … been an ongoing concern. As much as 80 percent of government information has a geospatial component, according to various sources,” and “the federal government’s role has changed from being a primary provider of authoritative geospatial information to coordinating and managing geospatial data and facilitating partnerships.”

While “Congress explored issues of cost, duplication of effort and coordination of geospatial information in hearings” during the 108th Congress, Folger noted that lawmakers still face considerable challenges with regard to coordinating how geospatial data are acquired and used by local, state and federal entities in collaboration with the private sector.

The report stated that “two bills introduced in the 112th  Congress, HR 1620 and HR 4322, would address aspects of duplication and coordination of geospatial information.”

Folger wrote, “The federal government has recognized the need to organize and coordinate the collection and management of geospatial data since at least 1990, when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revised Circular A-16 to establish the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and to promote the coordinated use, sharing and dissemination of geospatial data nationwide. OMB Circular A-16 also called for development of a national digital spatial information resource to enable the sharing and transfer of spatial data between users and producers, linked by criteria and standards.”

The report elaborated that 1994 Executive Order 12906 strengthened and enhanced Circular A-16 and specified that FGDC shall coordinate development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). On Nov. 10, 2010, OMB issued supplemental guidance to Circular A-16 that labeled geospatial data as a “capital asset,” and referred to its acquisition and management in terms analogous to financial assets to be managed as a National Geospatial Data Asset Portfolio.

“It will likely take some time and several budget cycles,” the report said, “to track whether agencies are adhering to the ‘portfolio-centric model’ of geospatial data management outlined in the supplemental guidance.”

Folger concluded that “Congress may consider how a national GIS or geospatial infrastructure would be conceived, perhaps drawing on proposals for these national efforts” described in his report, “and how they would be similar to or differ from current efforts. Congress may also examine its oversight role in the implementation of OMB Circular A-16, particularly in how federal agencies are coordinating their programs that have geospatial components. In 2004, GAO acknowledged that the federal government, through the FGDC and Geospatial One-Stop project, had taken actions to coordinate the government’s geospatial investments, but that those efforts had not been fully successful in eliminating redundancies among agencies. As a result, federal agencies were acquiring and maintaining potentially duplicative data sets and systems.”

“Since then,” Folger continued, “it is not clear whether federal agencies are successfully coordinating among themselves and measurably eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort.”

“Were Congress to take a more active oversight role overseeing the federal geospatial enterprise,” Folger noted, “it could evaluate whether specific recommendations from nonfederal stakeholders have been addressed. For example, the National Geospatial Advisory Committee recommended that OMB and FGDC strengthen their enforcement of Circular A-16 and Executive Order 12906.”

“However,” the report found, “enforcement alone may not be sufficient to meet the current challenges of management, coordination and data sharing. The issuance of supplemental guidance to Circular A-16 by OMB in November 2010 may instigate new activity among and between agencies, which could spill over into better coordination with the state and local governments and the private sector. It will likely take some time, and several budget cycles, to track whether agencies are adhering to the ‘portfolio-centric model’ of geospatial data management outlined in the supplemental guidance. It may also take time to evaluate whether the ‘portfolio-centric model’ is the best available model for managing the federal geospatial assets.”





Red Cross Announces App That Displays Current Shelter Information

4 03 2011
On February 22nd, 2011, Gloria Huang posted the following information on the American Red Cross Blog site:

iPhone users, [the Red Cross has]  brand spanking new app to help you find open shelters!   This Shelter View app displays current shelter information from the National Shelter System , which is updated every thirty minutes.

Download the app from the Apple app store.

    

Using the map view above, you’ll be able to check where shelters are open at any given time in the United States. A more detailed view is also available, showing you exactly where the shelter is, last reported resident count, capacity, and the local chapter involved with the shelter.





Missouri City Awarded Grants For High-Tech Emergency Response System

22 11 2010

From a recent Missouri City News Release, November 22, 2010:

Missouri City is taking the first steps toward implementing a high-technology radio system that will provide residents with more efficient and effective responses from both the Police Department and Fire & Rescue Service.   A total of $463,917 in federal grant money awarded to the City will allow the Police Department and Fire & Rescue Service to purchase radio consoles that enhance the implementation and coordination of emergency response communications.

 The funds, received from the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative grant program, will help improve first-responder communications. The grant is funded 100 percent by UASI and does not require a local match from the City. The money will be used by the Fire and Police Departments to start the replacement of radio consoles used to dispatch firefighters and police officers to emergency scenes.  At their Nov. 15 meeting, City Council members approved the purchase and installation of the new equipment, which signals the beginning of the City’s transition to a mandated digital radio system for the City’s emergency communications systems.

Fire Chief Russell Sander and Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald noted that the grants “will greatly assist our departments in enhancing the City’s 911 communications center.”

 





The Growing Use of Geospatial Information in Emergency Management

24 09 2010

Over the last few years, the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management has utilized technology to improve its abilities to handle collection and dissemination of information, both on a day-to-day basis and also during times of disaster.  It is incumbent on professional emergency management agencies to be aware of how useful technology can be before, during, and after a disaster occurs.  In particular, the relatively recent ability of everyday citizens to have access to GPS receivers enlarges the possibilities of how geospatial information can be utilized in the field of emergency management.

Geospatial information is more than just a handheld GPS receiver used to navigate personal travel.  Digital maps can unite people across the world and even save lives.  After last January’s earthquake in Haiti, geographic information systems helped first responders map cities, locate survivors, and distribute aid.

Penn State University has recently received a series of work entitled “The Geospatial Revolution Project.”  It is an overview of modern mapping, focusing on GPS (like Garmin units in a vehicle, smartphones, etc..), taking a look at GPS’s impact both on our daily lives and on the world at large.  The mission of the Geospatial Revolution Project is to expand public knowledge about the history, applications, related privacy and legal issues, and the potential future of location-based technologies. The first episode is a 13 minute documentary that takes a look at a timeline history of mapping —- including an examination of GPS use to provide humanitarian aid during the Haiti earthquake relief efforts.  Despite the destruction wrought by the earthquake, about two-thirds of phone lines remained standing–the most resilient bit of infrastructure–and that allowed some ingenious rescue methods that would have been impossible even a few years earlier.

The 13-minute video uses the earthquake in Haiti to highlight how geospatial technology is critical in providing first responders with the information they need to help victims.  This video can be accessed at the following link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwVig_cAU7U





Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort

25 01 2010

I have written a couple of times about the Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort.  The option offered below for businesses is unique in the sense that it involves a technology product that the Houston Urban Area is utilizing to help our area prepare for the next disaster.  Recently, our region purchased a technology called “i-INFO” to help us manage resources during a catastrophe.   

i-INFO Networks in other parts of the United States have formed a network to assist those in Haiti— in a manner that is appropriate to the need.  The World Cares Center in New York City, a member of the National Business Reponse Network, is deploying a team to Haiti to setup a resource and volunteer coordination center to assist int he relief and recovery effort.    The National Business Response Network is working with US Northern Command in this relief effort.  The team should be established this week, and once set up, with the help of other Business Response Network members providing satellite phones and other key equipment, the team will be in a position to communicate directly from the center in Haiti.

It is important that the donations from citizens and businesses fit the needs of the victims— it would be counterproductive to send items that are of no use to those suffering.  The Center will provide a mechanism for knowing exactly what is needed.  So, today, I have two suggestions for those citizens and businesses that want to contribute to the relief effort:

Citizens:

Citizens are urged to donate money to relief organizations. This ensure that the most appropriate type of aid gets to the victims as quickly as possible.  Donating to the American Red Cross, is a simple way for citizens to donate and to make sure that the money is being put to good use.  The Fort Bend County OEM coordinates with the Red Cross locally during disasters which affect Fort Bend County, and you can donate to the Red Cross to send more relief to Haiti.

Businesses:

Businesses are also urged to donate to the Red Cross, but can also offer supplies to be sent directly to Haiti. A registry is available at http://registry.i-info.com/haiti and is intended to collect in-kind resources from any organization that is willing to donate these critically needed items. If you don’t have anything to donate on the list, you can register for updates to the registry.