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IPSA's Public Safety Column
The IPSA's Public Safety Column is an opportunity for our members and corporate sponsors to provide thought leadership articles about all topics facing public safety.
The articles we publish are not necessarily the views of the IPSA, rather they are opinions shared by each contributor.
By Chief Robert A. Mitchell, Ret., CFO, CEMSO, PSC, FPEM
There were 54 first responder fatalities during the first quarter of 2019 (January – March). The three most common causes include gunfire-related (n=18), vehicular related (n=16), and medical emergencies (n=9). Sadly, these types of deaths are recurring in the public safety profession.
Gunfire-related. The 18 gunfire-related fatalities in Q1 2019 include three K9s and 15 officers. Gunfire-related fatalities occurred during arrest warrants, vehicle pursuit, investigations, accidental ambush attacks, domestic call, barricaded subjects and traffic stops.
Historically, law enforcement officers were not shot for stopping a driver with a tail light out. They were simply trying to enforce laws to make the roads safer for other drivers, and this is still an officer’s intent – safety. Given that times have changed, officers and departments need to assess if they are doing everything possible to prevent gunfire-related deaths. Before duty, officers need to ask themselves:
While these questions may seem like rookie stuff, the seasoned professional tends to get complacent about details over time. An officer can never let their guard down, no matter how routine an encounter may seem.
Below are some recommendations from the International Public Safety Association InfoBrief: First Responder Line of Duty Death Causes and Prevention Strategies:
Vehicle related (assault, struck by a vehicle crash/accident). There were 16 vehicle-related fatalities in Q1 2019. This includes vehicle crashes/accidents, assault and being struck by a vehicle. No other group in the world multitasks like a first responder: lights and sirens; navigating traffic; clearing intersections; operating a two-way radio; getting updates from a mobile data terminal; receiving calls from dispatch on a cell phone with that one more piece of information. However, emergency drivers must start putting things down. It’s life dependent.
When reviewing data from third party sources, there is very little information cited to explain the crash (e.g. excessive speed, distracted driver or medical emergency). Further, there is no consistent data whether the occupants were wearing seat belts, whether the airbags deployed or did materials and equipment dislodged that may have caused a fatality.
Medical emergencies. There were nine line of duty deaths in Q1 2019 from cardiac arrest and medical emergencies. While the job of a first responder is inherently stressful, being in good health is part of the job. This is probably the thing that can be most controlled by an individual. Below are four tips for first responders to adopt:
All first responders age, and with age the body changes and health or medical issues surface. It is imperative to get an annual physical exam.
According to the International Public Safety Association InfoBrief: First Responder Line of Duty Death Causes and Prevention Strategies, "Beyond an annual physical, agencies have developed policies that require wellness exams based upon certain circumstances as officer involved shootings, major fire or rescue emergencies and mass casualty events. This medical surveillance program is mandatory, conducted by the department safety officer or other dedicated medical resources, and the first responder may not return to duty until the examination or observation is complete. Included in these programs is healthy diet education, teaching the firehouse cooks how to prepare healthy meals, how to teach patrol officers to avoid fast food, and how to teach EMS personnel foods to avoid. It is a combination of these initiatives that will or have, over time, created a healthier workforce."
First responder line of duty deaths will continue to occur, but there is an opportunity to reduce the number of fatalities. Avoid distracted driving. Wear a seatbelt. Go to work with the right mental frame of mind. Talk to a clinician. Get an annual physical. Be health conscious. Maintain situational awareness. Learn what is causing line of duty deaths to prevent them from happening.
About the Author
Chief Mitchell is a retired Chief Fire Officer, Chief EMS Officer and Professional Emergency Manager. During his 40-year career, he has worked in law enforcement, fire service, EMS and emergency management. He now consults and teaches around the country. You can reach Chief Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Public Safety Association InfoBrief: First Responder Line of Duty Death Causes and Prevention Strategies
International Public Safety Association InfoBrief: Assaults Against First Responders
International Public Safety Association InfoBrief: Fitness, Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Public Safety
Scene Safety Infographic
Internal Situational Awareness Infographic
Editor’s Note: Article reprinted from EMS Week 2019 publication. Please find out more about EMS Week at emsstrong.org
To handle the stress associated with working in EMS, paramedics and EMTs benefit from good physical, mental and emotional health.
The greatest asset of any EMS agency is its people—the EMS practitioners and other personnel who are there for members of the community during their worst moments, and who ensure their patients receive high-quality, compassionate and lifesaving care.
However, “being there” for patients and their family members and friends during medical emergencies is inherently stressful. EMS practitioners often work in harsh environments; under difficult, unpredictable circumstances; with limited information, assistance and resources. They may be exposed to risks such as infectious disease, physical violence, occupational injury, vehicle crashes and death. They may be called on to help victims of traumatic events, which can leave scars on the responders who bear witness.
To effectively handle the stress associated with working in EMS, EMTs and paramedics benefit from having good physical, mental and emotional health. Research shows that mental and emotional well-being lowers the risk of developing chronic physical conditions, while keeping healthy physically can help ward off conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders. Resilience is also protective—responders who are resilient can bounce back more easily from adverse events and more readily adapt to change.
Yet research also shows that some members of the EMS workforce face ongoing challenges in maintaining their mental, emotional and physical health—and that many EMS practitioners believe there is more that EMS agencies can do to help.
A 2015 survey of EMTs and paramedics published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) found a high rate of suicidal thoughts among EMS practitioners. The survey found that 37 percent reported having contemplated suicide, nearly 10 times the rate of American adults.
In 2016, NAEMT’s National Survey on EMS Mental Health Services found that 37 percent of EMS agencies provided no mental health support for EMS practitioners, and 42 percent provided no health and wellness services. Even among those whose agencies provided counseling or resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), many EMS practitioners were reluctant to share their struggles for fear of being seen as weak.
A 2017 survey by the University of Phoenix of 2,000 U.S. adults employed as first responders, including firefighters, police officers, EMTs, paramedics and nurses, found 84 percent of first responders had experienced a traumatic event on the job and 34 percent had received a formal diagnosis of a mental health disorder such as depression or PTSD. For those diagnosed with depression, nearly half cited incidents at work as a contributing cause.
Getting started: Building a culture of wellness and resiliency
A culture of wellness and resiliency begins with an awareness of healthy lifestyles in the workplace. EMS agencies can help their personnel achieve this by providing educational opportunities, programs and hands-on experiences to address a large array of health and wellness-related topics for employees.
Attributes of a workplace that supports wellness and resilience include:
Defining wellness and resilience
What is Wellness?
Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and learning to make healthy choices, according to the National Wellness Institute. Wellness means more than simply not being ill; it focuses on keeping your body in good condition to prevent certain chronic diseases. True wellness is proactive and recognizes that each individual has mental, physical and social needs that must be fulfilled to maintain optimal health.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and adversity without suffering lasting physical or psychological harm. Resilient people bounce back from setbacks. Resilience also provides protection from PTSD. When faced with a traumatic or stressful situation, resilient people are able to move past what occurred and resume their lives.
Factors associated with resilience include: optimism, the ability to stay balanced and manage strong or difficult emotions, a sense of safety and a strong social support system. Some people are naturally more resilient than others. But research shows that resilience isn’t a fixed trait. Resilience is a set of skills that can be taught and learned—and EMS agencies play a role in this.
Helping EMS agencies help the EMS workforce
To assist EMS agencies in developing programs that help EMS personnel maintain their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, NAEMT has developed a Guide to Building an Effective EMS Wellness and Resiliency Program. The guide presents:
Editor's Note: Reprinted with permission from the author, Dr. Robert T. Muller. Originally published with Psychology Today.
In February 2016, Gail—a 911 dispatcher with Toronto Paramedic Services—found herself in tears at work. She had just received a call about Wallace Passos, a three-year-old boy from Toronto, who fell from a 17-story apartment building to his death.
At age 57, Gail has been working as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher for 15 years. Taking calls from around the city, she dispatches the closest ambulance. All dispatchers are expected to work 12-hour shifts, at times with only one colleague on duty.
This past year, Gail’s job became especially difficult for her when she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Gail recently spoke with the Trauma and Mental Health Report to discuss the experience that led to the diagnosis:
“I’m still haunted by the sounds of the family crying on the phone after the three-year-old fell off the building. I imagine the boy in pain, and it’s just awful.”
Gail is not the first emergency dispatcher to experience PTSD symptoms. A study conducted by researchers at Northern Illinois University described how 911 dispatchers are exposed to duty-related trauma, which is defined as an indirect exposure to someone else’s traumatic experience. Duty-related trauma puts dispatchers at risk for developing PTSD. Participants in the study reported experiencing fear, helplessness, and horror in reaction to various calls they received.
Along with the stress of being on the receiving end of difficult calls, emergency dispatchers also deal with the pressure and demand of following protocol, despite variability in situations.
Toronto Paramedic Services follows specific protocols set by The National Academy of Dispatch. The system was developed at Salt Lake City, Utah in 1988 and incorporates a set of 33 protocols for those answering 911 emergency phone calls. On a call, everyone is treated equally and is asked the same basic investigative questions. These questions are then used to give priority to life-threatening situations and provide guidance to first responders like firefighters, paramedics, and police officers on the scene.
While the protocols can be useful for guiding dispatchers through stressful situations, in other circumstances, they can cause pain and discomfort when a dispatcher can tell that a situation is hopeless. Dispatchers are not trained to deal with each unique case differently; they are expected to follow through with the routine questions regardless of circumstances.
In the case of Wallace Passos, Gail had to give instructions for CPR despite knowing that the child was already dead.
“It’s not just that the little boy died, but I feel that I traumatized the people that were trying to help him because I was required, in my position as a dispatcher, to tell them what to do to try and save him. And I knew from their description that he was dead. But we have to follow the procedure; we have to try.”
This predicament is further compounded by the blame placed on dispatchers for negative outcomes. Gail explains:
“People curse us and call us names just because we’re doing our jobs.”
Before her diagnosis, Gail often found herself crying at work without reason; she would take a call regarding a minor injury and become emotional. Her supervisor eventually gave her permission to take a leave of absence.
Over the past few months she has had disruptive sleep, nightmares, headaches, and unexplainable muscle spasms:
“I am hyper-vigilant, especially when I hear sirens. And it doesn’t have to be an ambulance; it could be a police car or fire truck. I hear the sirens and I start tensing up and looking all around me.”
Gail has been on a year-long search for proper psychological support for her PTSD. Unfortunately, there are few mental health benefits offered to dispatchers. Gail sought help from doctors, counselors, and social workers, most of whom referred her to other mental healthcare workers without providing much support.
But there is reason to be optimistic. The Ontario government passed legislation in February 2016 for better mental health support and benefits for first responders with PTSD, including 911 dispatchers.
“It made me sad that no one was stepping up and taking care of us. I want my peers to understand what it’s like to have PTSD after doing this job because I felt so alone when it happened to me. But this new legislation is huge. I think it’s very important because it’s raising awareness around this concern.”
Afifa Mahboob, Contributing Writer.
Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.
Copyright Robert T. Muller.
Robert T. Muller, Ph.D. trained at Harvard, was on faculty at the University of Massachusetts, and is currently at York University in Toronto. Dr. Muller was recently honored as a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation (ISSTD) for his work on trauma treatment. And his bestseller, "Trauma and the Avoidant Client," is in its third printing, has been translated, and won the 2011 ISSTD award for the year's best written work on trauma. As lead investigator on several multi-site programs to treat interpersonal trauma, Dr. Muller has lectured internationally (Australia, Europe, U.S.), and has been the keynote speaker at mental health conferences in New Zealand and Canada. He founded an online magazine, "The Trauma & Mental Health Report," that is now visited by over 100,000 readers a year. With over 20 years in the field, he practices in Toronto.
By Dave Weiner, IPSA Mental Health Committee Member
In March of 2018, I had the fortunate experience to be part of the Mayors Challenge team. The Mayors Challenge is a great partnership between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The overarching goal of the Mayor’s Challenge is to reduce suicides among service members, Veterans and their families using a public health approach to suicide prevention. The multi-disciplinary team from Los Angeles consisted of members from the City of Los Angeles Mayors Office, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Didi Hirsch, 211 LA, U.S. Army Suicide Prevention Office, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Mental Evaluation Team (MET), Los Angeles Police Department Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU), Greater Los Angeles VA Suicide Prevention Office and I attended to represent VA Police from our region.
This entire program was funded by SAMHSA and the eight city teams met in Washington D.C. from March 2018 to develop a comprehensive framework for a strategic action plan that would be a benefit Veterans in the County and City of Los Angeles.
Veteran suicide rates
In July 2016, the VA conducted an analysis of veteran suicide rates. They reviewed 55 million Veteran records from 1979 to 2014, from every state in the United States. The data revealed that roughly 20 veterans died by suicide per day.
While the VA has made great strides in working to reduce the number of veteran suicides through the development of the Veterans Crisis Hotline, expanding capacity for same-day mental health appointments and hiring additional clinicians to address these critical issues, one element had been overlooked. This was the proactive outreach to Veterans in crisis like how both LAPD and LASD do proactive outreach to non-Veteran citizens in crisis in their respective communities.
Making a change locally
After working with the Mayors Challenge team in D.C., it was apparent there was an opportunity to do more for our Veterans locally. This led to the creation of the VA Police Veteran Mental Health Evaluation Team at the VA Long Beach healthcare system facility in August 2018. Like the MET and MEU teams at LASD and LAPD respectively, this new element is the proactive utilization of VA Police Department officers in conjunction with VA mental health clinicians to conduct outreach contacts and follow-up on cases of Veterans experiencing mental health issues/crises.
Building the program
Developing this program took a lot of internal and external coordination. Nothing like this had been attempted before. To the VA’s credit, they do have a program that pairs a VA Police Officer and clinician to teach first responders how to interact with Veterans in the field but that’s where it stops. The VMET team is a natural extension of that program and puts boots on the ground to interact directly with Veterans and provide the care and resources at the point of crisis.
It was critical to get buy-in from a plethora of people internal to the VA and support from law enforcement counterpart. It was equally important to connect with key stakeholders in the mental health field, social work services and the executive leadership of these groups.
VMET pilot program
The VMET pilot program went live on August 20, 2018. In just six months, it went from concept to reality. The team performs a version of case management to ensure when they get a Veteran back to the medical center for care, that they are routing the Veteran to appropriate services. The team does periodic follow up to ensure the Veteran is staying on the right path and moving toward recovery.
This case management component is important. It shows that the team cares about the outcome and that they are partners in the Veteran’s success in recovery. The response to this service has been overwhelmingly positive and has garnered media attention of the team.
The team is a force multiplier in the fight against Veteran suicide. They can bring the resources the VA has to bear on an issue a Veteran has. This pro-active outreach, co-response model has changed the course in several Veterans’ lives.
It took a monument of effort to get this program operationalized. Below are some tips, ideas and strategies to replicate a program like this in another community:
To date of this article, the VMET team has responded to well over 400 calls for service involving Veterans in crisis to include necessary follow ups and case management.
Two media articles below highlight the team and their effectiveness.
Dave Weiner is the founder and CEO of Secure Measures, LLC, a risk management consulting firm that provides protection solutions for the global ecosystem. Prior to founding his company, Weiner’s 26-year public safety career included roles in corporate security, training, K-9, SRT, community policing, investigations and culminated in retiring as Regional Chief of Police and Emergency Management.
By Jennifer Stewart, Communications Supervisor, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Communications Division, IPSA Board Vice-Chair
Everyday day thousands of people dial 911. They hear a voice come on the line that asks if they need police, fire or medic. The telecommunicator will then ask the most important question while they have you on the phone – what your address is. Depending on what type of emergency response is needed the telecommunicator will ask more clarifying questions and then both parties disconnect.
If most 911 calls were that easy we would be living in a perfect world. However, no 911 call is the same. A 911 operator goes from one emergency call to the next and does not get any closure. Each accident, domestic, suspicious person or a noise complaint calls are all different. And then there’s that one call that occurs sometime during a 911 operator’s career that is never forgotten.
Working in an emergency operations environment
The job of a 911 operator is not easy. People do not call just to say hello, it is because they have an emergency.
Sometimes a 911 operator is yelled or cussed at because the caller is frustrated by all the questions. While being chastised, we have a duty to remain professional and maintain a calm voice. Being a 911 operator is not a thankless job because even if you helped just one person it is worth it.
Most people can never say they have met a 911 operator so the next time you do meet one tell them thank you. They are often the first voice you hear when you need help.
Jennifer Stewart is a 15-year veteran with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Communications Division. She is the Vice-Chair of the IPSA's Board of Directors.
Editor's note: This article is from the International Public Safety Association’s UAS eBook
By Mark Wesley, Member of IPSA’s UAS Committee
University and college campuses have traditionally been venues used by students and others to protest, demonstrate and engage in other activities under their First Amendment rights. Managing the security and safety during these large gatherings is primarily a function of law enforcement officers and campus public safety personnel. However, these events can quickly evolve, the size of the crowd can increase rapidly, and the peaceful mood can swing to civil disturbance, which will ultimately stress the limited resources available to most campus public safety departments.
UAS offers a cost-effective and safe force multiplier. A bird’s eye view live stream of the situation can quickly provide information on crowd size, movement, access path, and other elements that can assist campus public safety make decisions on how to manage the event.
Mass gatherings and UAS
UAS are deployed at many events to help with security and management. The 2018 Coachella Music Festival organizers and local law enforcement utilized surveillance UAS as part of the security measures for the event. Indio, California police officers used the UAS to monitor security and traffic.
Following the Route 91 Harvest Music festival shooting in October 2017, Las Vegas police used UAS to monitor crowds, identify suspicious packages and track any unusual activity on the Strip during New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The Air Support Unit of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department used UAS to monitor an immigrant rights rally at the Contra County West County Detention Facility.
While UAS may seem an efficient and easy application, there are many considerations that need to be addressed prior to flight operations in support of law enforcement. A few of these basic considerations include regulatory compliance, integration with incident command, and privacy issues.
Campus law enforcement needs to be familiar with applicable federal, state and local laws and policies to determine if UAS can be used. Has the agency met FAA requirements for operation under a Certificate of Waiver/Authorization (COA) or under Part 107?
According to the FAA, federal, state and local government offices can fly UAS to support specific missions, under either the FAA’s Part 107 rule or by obtaining a COA. Be aware that some states have legislation restricting the use of UAS by law enforcement agencies. Can the operation be warrantless?
Before any deployment, agency leadership needs to decide if the use of UAS is the best way to fulfill the mission. If the decision is to use UAS to support the mission, then the specific details of the operation need to be identified prior to deployment and captured in an incident action plan. Adherence to incident command protocols is essential for successful UAS flight operations during events. Setting the conditions for flight operations, establishing the chain of command for authorization of flights and ensuring notification to ground elements of the operation are just some of the elements that need to be planned out prior to deployment.
UAS operation can also impact the campus community’s perception of the agency’s transparency and trust. Some people will view the use of UAS as a violation of their privacy and a restriction on their First Amendment rights. The agency needs to be prepared to proactively explain the need for improved safety and why UAS supports that effort. One way to accomplish this is to engage the campus community in the process as the program is being developed and to publicize the agency’s policies regarding UAS use, collection and storage of information. It will be an on-going debate over when and how law enforcement uses UAS.
However, UAS can be an incredibly effective tool in conducting situational assessment and proving valuable information to help protect both law enforcement personnel and participants during mass gathering events.
Mark Wesley has more than 30 years of progressive experience as an emergency management professional, with a focus on program development, policy analysis, training and exercises. He is currently the Emergency Management Director at Eastern Michigan University and previously spent 22 years with the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division. He is the principal manager of MHW Consulting LLC, founded in 2011, a veteran-owned consultancy company that provides comprehensive emergency management services.
How UAS can help law enforcement, campus public safety manage mass gatherings
How UAS can assist during hostage negotiation, barricaded subject situations
Aerial swarming threats: Preparing agencies for the next attack
How public safety agencies leveraged UAS during recent natural disasters
What to consider before starting a new public safety UAS program
By Thomas Margetta, Member of IPSA’s UAS Committee
The use of unmanned aerial systems in law enforcement and public safety applications is quickly gaining in adoption and will continue far into the foreseeable future. According to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College estimates, as of May 2018, there were at least 910 state and local police, sheriff and emergency services agencies in the U.S. that have already acquired UAS. Initial applications of the use of UAS range from search and rescue, suspect pursuit and traffic accident investigations to SWAT operations. Key benefits, including tactical aerial support and situational awareness, provide agencies with many operational advantages like manned aircraft, but with greater maneuverability and safety without the associated high costs. While most UAS law enforcement applications generally refer to overhead tactical support use outdoors, one lesser known operational benefit is how UAS can assist during hostage negotiation and/or barricaded subject situations.
Law enforcement personnel who are experienced in working with UAS understand how critical it is to match the UAS and associated equipment with the right operation. This may include inherent capabilities of the UAS such as flight time, wind rating, weather, imaging payload, battery change capabilities, communication and control software. For example, UAS equipment required for a search and rescue operation over expansive, rugged terrain at night may be quite different than one used to take detailed aerial photography over a traffic homicide scene. Similarly, UAS used for hostage and/or barricaded subject situations also requires forethought in selecting the proper equipment for proper tactical support.
One example of this occurred in 2013, when a suspect shot a school bus driver and held a 5-year-old boy captive for nearly a week in an underground bunker in Midland City, Alabama. The FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team flew UAS over the scene to provide aerial intelligence while they snuck a camera into the bunker to build a replica to practice their assault for entry. In what Clint Van Zandt, former FBI negotiator, described as, “A classic, textbook situation,” the team exchanged gunfire with the suspect and killed him before rescuing the child.
Tactical UAS considerations
Some general requirements of tactical UAS to be considered may include:
To prepare for a multitude of variables that can occur during a hostage and/or barricaded subject situation, a law enforcement agency must ensure they have the right UAS and associated features and communications capabilities for the operations they will be called to respond to.
Once the right equipment with associated features and communications are selected, examples of how a UAS may be used include:
In summary, UAS are gaining in adoption and use for law enforcement. It is critical to understand that matching the right UAS and associated equipment, communications and software with the right objectives and tactical operations will help ensure successful outcomes. For hostage negotiation and/or barricaded subject situations, specialized indoor UAS, associated equipment, two-way communications and software should be considered to ensure law enforcement is prepared to handle these situations while providing greater officer and hostage safety and increasing operational efficiency.
Thomas Margetta is the Director of Client Services for STRAX Intelligence Group, who’s STRAX® Platform provides aerial intelligence and real-time situational awareness solutions for public safety. The Florida-based company manufactures the SABER® Close Quarters Tactical Indoor UAS. He is in the 27th year of his 9-1-1 career supporting law enforcement. An inaugural IPSA UAS Committee member, he may be contacted at email@example.com.
By Wesley Bull, Chair of IPSA’s UAS Committee
During a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, National Counterterrorism Center Acting Director Russ Travers testified, "We're in the early stages of seeing terrorist use of drones and UASs for swarm attacks, explosive delivery means and even assassination attempts.”
Myriad positive use cases for operational deployment of aerial UAS by law enforcement and public safety agencies abound (search and rescue, special operations, investigations, surveillance, crime scene mapping, fire incident size-up, HAZMAT, disaster response and beyond). However, most protection professionals simultaneously recognize the threats and vulnerabilities that aberrant hobbyist UAS operators and criminal and terrorist actors enabled with UAS platforms can bring to a variety of operating environments. Aerial swarm advantages and vulnerabilities are not only strategic, but also operational and tactical, and both offensive and defensive. The notion of aerial swarms, whether deployed with negligence or evil intent is downright terrifying and at present, difficult to mitigate.
This in mind, let us consider the emerging threat of aerial swarms and what protective services agencies should begin to contemplate – whether they have a UAS program or not.
Setting a baseline using academic definitions of UAS and swarming can provide a useful framework for the concept of risks associated with aerial swarming threats:
According to a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, “current and near-term (by 2025) capabilities will enable the employment of multiple sUASs in coordinated groups, swarms, and collaborative groups.” This is highly concerning given that swarms pose a significant challenge for counter-UAS efforts to detect, identify and track multiple aerial UAS’s. As cited by Seiffert in the NAS report, “as the number of individual sUASs increases in a single swarm, humans lose the ability to track individual sUASs and begin to perceive multiple sUASs as a single entity. While it is not entirely clear at what number of entities this perceptual transition occurs, it is believed that the tipping point is about 40 sUASs.”
State-sponsored actors, such as China, are aggressively pursuing aerial swarm technologies to adapt, overwhelm and simultaneously deploy offensive splinter-attack capabilitiessuch as kamikaze drones with explosive warheads, decoys, electronic warfare UAVs, anti-radiation drones, armed UAVs, and communications relay UAVs. All are designed to overwhelm, exploit and adapt to counter-UAS solutions, along with causing the targeted entity to exhaust its defenses, leaving it vulnerable to the other offensive attack vectors that remain. Of note are the concomitant technology advancements with autonomous flight programming / AI whereby the swarm can even be pre-programmed to mount its attack strategy as a swarm, in autonomous mode with no pilot in command.
However, aerial UAS swarm technology does not exclusively belong to state actors. Although there have been no reports of multiple UAS or swarms used by ISIS as yet, Geektime reports there are indications that ISIS is becoming more advanced in their ability to maximize multiple drones as part of their terror attack strategies and Russia has reported aerial swarm attacks in theater in the Middle East.
So what mitigation solutions are available to counter the threat of aerial swarming by UAS? Regrettably, the most advanced counter-UAS technologies that I’ve witnessed remain classified and are only available for use by the military and perhaps soon, given recent legislative changes in the U.S., some federal law enforcement agencies. Not surprisingly, several countries outside the U.S., with fewer freedoms, have taken a much stronger posture about protecting their airspace from the UAS threat, making counter-UAS technologies available to law enforcement and their homeland security equivalent organizations.
A recent Popular Mechanics article recently highlighted that “law enforcement have surprisingly few effective anti-drone tools, and none—that are declassified—to target multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or swarms.” Shotgun shells that fire nets to snare the propellers, or frangible projectiles to obliterate the propellers, work only at close range and their utility can vary considering whether the environment is urban, densely populated or remote and unpopulated. Other commercially available options include pure detection, frequency jamming, geo-fencing technologies to barrier an environment, “pursuit drones,” which fire nets or projectiles and even falcons have been effectively used to combat the single UAS effectively, but not to counter swarms.
Generally, a counter-sUAS system is used to implement the following kill chain: detect, locate and track potential targets; identify, classify and evaluate targets as sUASs; engage and defeat (neutralize) sUASs; verify the response through damage assessment; and recovery of device(s).
The legal analysts and researchers at Rupprecht Law developed a UAS law specific blogpost that details the legal and operational problems with many of the counter-UAS technologies in the market today. This site can provide the reader with more insight on the complicated landscape of conflicting laws, regulatory gaps and lack of legal authorities across the counter-UAS domain. It is increasingly apparent that current U.S. legal constructs, authorities and solutions for the public safety domains are ill-prepared to contend with the ever-increasing risks as UAS platforms go mainstream and this technology further advances.
As if the threat of a bad actor in some way weaponizing a UAS wasn’t enough of an operational challenge for emergency services to confront, we must now contemplate the potential for a swarm of UAS or micro-drones being deployed for primary and secondary attacks, to interrupt emergency response operations (aerial and ground), conducting pre and post operational surveillance combined with attack modalities, disruption of deployed public safety UAS platforms and beyond.
Notably, included within the FAA Reauthorization Act, was the Hartzler Provision for Drone Security - that provides Title 18 relief to allow these agencies to use counter drone technology to detect, monitor, and engage with unauthorized drones that pose a reasonable threat to the safety and security of certain facilities and assets, including those related to operations that counter terrorism, narcotics, and transnational criminal organizations.
While it remains unclear specifically what “destroy” means within the language of the Act, it is believed that U.S. Department of Homeland Security, among others, are looking at both kinetic and non-kinetic options based upon a variety of operational and environmental considerations.
This short primer was designed to bring cursory awareness to the emerging threat of aerial swarms using sUAS, and begin to provide some perspective on the preliminary solutions being considered to counter such threats at the time of publication.
As a fellow protection professional working around the world, I must conclude that there is still much work to be done to better understand and deter this emerging threat. On behalf of the UAS Committee at the IPSA, know we will be vigilant in furthering our knowledge of this threat and provide our members with updates as appropriate. We welcome your comments and insights as we work together to advance IPSA’s mission across the protection disciplines.
Wesley Bull is the CEO of Sentinel Resource Group, a consulting and solutions firm helping companies and governments better protect people, places and things from diverse and emerging threats. He is also the Chair of the UAS Committee for IPSA. Prior to SRG Bull’s career included sworn roles in law enforcement and public safety, special task force assignments within the US intelligence community, and as the CSO/CISO/FSO for two major global corporations.
By Lawrence Nolan Ph.D., Member of IPSA’s UAS Committee
The capabilities and missions that an unmanned aircraft system can provide to public safety agencies continues to increase as this emerging technology produces lesson learned and novel approaches to response with increased use in disasters. In a disaster or emergency incident, responders are exposed to hazardous environments or unable to gain timely access to a location to deal with the situations they confront. The UAS, with various types of sensors attached, allows the responders to initially remain clear of the hazards or provide a timely perspective of the incident to gain situational awareness. In a 2015 report on the use of UAS for disaster response and relief operations, responders to 11 disasters around the world from 2011-2015 used UAS to perform surveillance and mapping, search, structural inspection or estimation of debris.
The use of UAS by emergency response organizations across the nation has increased. A 2017 Bard College article identified that approximately 910 state and local public safety agencies have acquired the technology in the U.S.
Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires
Natural hazard incidents such as an earthquake, tornado, hurricane or wildfire may significantly impact a community with a variety of destructive outcomes. They may damage infrastructure in such a way that exposes hazardous materials, explosives or radiation to the environment. Public safety agencies responding to these dangerous conditions could use an UAS to identify the scope of the situation and develop an incident action plan to address the hazardous condition. This would provide public safety officials with critical information to reduce the exposure of first responders to the hazardous environment as the hazards are addressed.
In a March 2018 Vox news story, disasters in the U.S. have included Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, California Wildfires to include the Thomas Fire, Western Wildfires and tornados in the Midwest. Each of these natural disasters provide an opportunity for expanding the use of a UAS by public safety agencies. The option of various payloads that may be carried by the UAS, provides a range of alternative missions that can be used.
A September 2017 post in Drone Life, reported the response use of UAS in Hurricane Harvey for damage assessment and search and rescue, while UAS usage in Hurricane Irma included aerial surveys and damage assessment. This demonstrates the versatility of UAS with its various payloads.
A December 2017 Wired.com article, reported that the Los Angeles Fire Department used UAS to support the response to a California wildfire by determining the advance of the fire and also to identify hot spots that needed to be extinguished. An infrared sensor payload on a UAS would provide the capability to locate hot spots in a wildfire despite the smoke or trees covering the area. This capability provided the LAFD with valuable information to track the advance of the fire and to locate those areas that may not be fully extinguished and require assets to eliminate the hot spots. This is another example of the range of missions that can be performed by an UAS with different payloads.
Disasters caused by natural hazards may also lead to conditions where access to the impacted area is not immediately possible. This situation is another opportunity to use UAS to provide that initial observation of the impacted area and allow for effective planning and response. In the previously cited report, payloads that may be carried by UAS include electro-optical video, infrared sensor to detect heat, mapping sensor, communications relay and sniffers to detect a substance in the air. The payloads on UAS expand the capabilities of public safety agencies to respond in a more informed and safe manner.
The value of the UAS by public safety agencies is supported by the increased usage during disasters. This article focused on natural disasters and the varied mission that could be performed by UAS. In disasters and emergencies developed because of technical accidents or manmade incidents such as terrorism, the use of UAS to respond would be effective as well. With increased usage of UAS by public safety agencies, it is expected that new approaches and payloads for UAS will increase to better respond to disasters and emergencies.
Lawrence Nolan retired as a Captain from the U.S. Navy Reserve and served as an Intelligence Officer and Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer for New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also retired as a Supervisory Logistics Management Specialist from the Department of the Army at Fort Monmouth, NJ. He currently develops Emergency Management Policy for Capstone Corporation supporting the Navy Installations Command.
By Bill Pritchett, Member of IPSA’s UAS Committee
The use of aerial support is not a new concept in public safety. Helicopters have proven to be a successful tool to aid emergency response personnel with aerial policing and search and rescue operations. Many law enforcement agencies, such as the Los Angeles Police Department, have had air support divisions for more than 60 years. Unfortunately, the price makes it unattainable for smaller public safety departments to utilize.
Unmanned aircraft systems are changing that. Technological advancements and the relatively low cost of these aircraft has made offering aerial support a reality in many communities. UAS are a less expensive alternative to a full-scale helicopter, and they can quickly be deployed from nearly any site. This capability makes them crucial in providing real-time situational awareness to commanding officers at a scene.
Cameras currently used on UAS can stream live 4K video footage to the ground, as well as take high-resolution pictures at a scene. Thermal imaging and GPS are also available and frequently used to aid crews in search and rescue and firefighting operations.
As UAS technology evolves, so will its use in public safety. Larger emergency agencies, such as the New York Fire Department, now deploy UAS to large, four-alarm fires. They clearly offer public safety departments the option to protect their communities in ways that they previously could not.
Using a UAS during an emergency provides incredibly helpful live data to incident command, which can lead to better, faster and safer decisions—ultimately saving lives and property and keeping first responders out of harm’s way. Perhaps the most critical domain for UAS use is in areas in which the assignment poses a significant risk to human life.
Explosive ordnance disposal is a prime example. According to the 2007 U.S. Department of Defense Unmanned Systems Roadmap report, coalition forces in Iraq neutralized more than 11,100 improvised explosive devices from 2003 to 2007. From 2004 to 2007, the number of EOD unmanned vehicles deployed in Iraq rose from 162 to more than 4,000. They were, without doubt, responsible for saving thousands of lives.
Dangerous job assignments are not limited to the military. The inspection of structures such as bridges, radio towers, wind turbines and oil rigs depend heavily on visual assessments from experienced field inspectors. Visual inspections of bridges and high-mast structures often require inspectors to be placed in high-risk settings, working at altitudes greater than 1,700 feet, or being suspended beneath bridges. This technology is ideal for taking the inspector out of danger and gaining new perspective on otherwise dangerous places to reach.
In the event of an emergency, UAS are an important tool for first responders. Every day, firefighters, law enforcement officers, SWAT teams and many others use UAS to survey areas that would be difficult or dangerous to survey on foot.
Getting started with UAS
Under the small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Rule (Part 107), pilots must pass an aeronautical knowledge test to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate. FAA knowledge testing centers charge approximately $150 to take the initial aeronautical knowledge test. Keeping your license current requires testing every two years from the last day of the month of the initial test. It’s a difficult test. Someone with no aviation background will likely need to enroll in a course to prepare for the test.
Federal law requires that all aircraft (which includes sUAS and radio/remote-controlled aircraft) flown outdoors be registered with the FAA and marked with a registration number. Any sUAS weighing more than 0.55 pound and less than 55 pounds can be registered online at https://faadronezone.faa.gov.
UAS flown for work or business (commercially) must be registered individually by the owner. Each registration costs $5. Each registrant must supply his or her name, address and email address, in addition to the make, model and serial number (if available) for each sUAS that the pilot wants to fly.
UAS and safety
Once the pilot takes the course, passes the test, and has everything registered this makes him or her legal, but not safe. Executing a successful (safe) commercial operation for public safety, building inspection, aerial photography, videography or other flight mission requires actual flying skills. Just because a pilot has figured out how to take off, fly around a parking lot and land does not give him or her the necessary skills to fly commercially.
Flying publicly means flying near other people, over someone else’s property and/or under the ever-watchful eye of the FAA and the public. Flying skills such as these require training from professionals who have done it thousands of times without incident. There is an initial and continual need for UAS hands-on training for all pilots.
UAS programmatic planning, cost
All agencies must plan for success by budgeting for great equipment and training. Ask around because there are but a handful of manufacturers’ products universally recommended for use in public safety. Budget for training. Be proactive in the development of your department’s deployment procedure, training recurrence and equipment maintenance and management.
One item to be aware of is cost. There is no question that a single UAS is substantially less expensive than deploying a full-scale helicopter at a rate of $1,000 per hour. However, do not try to compare a real public safety UAS deployment budget with what anyone can buy a single UAS for at any local retail store. Anticipate several other line items in the UAS programmatic budget – not just the cost of the technology – and plan for those items accordingly.
Bill Pritchett is the Director of Education for the Academy of Model Aeronautics. He has 40 years of experience as an educator. A graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, he received his undergraduate degree in education in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1981. Bill is an RC Precision Aerobatics national champion and continues to fly and participate in competitive model aviation Precision Aerobatics events.
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