Hiring an sUAS/Drone Field Service Provider? You’ll wanna read this…

Organizations looking to hire a Drone Services Provider/contractor (DSP) or training provider are faced with so many choices (and questions), it’s understandable when confusion clouds the process. To help with details that will smooth some of the edges in the interview process, here are a few tips for hiring a Drone Service or Training provider.

1)  Request their Remote Pilot Certificate. Many refer to this as a “license,” but it is a certificate issued by the FAA to persons that have passed their written Part 107 testing examination. DSPs and training personnel should both be able to produce this carded document on demand. We have discovered several “trainers” instructing without holding this certification, which could potentially create legal issues for the hiring agency, and there are many DSP’s who do not hold this certificate.

Be aware that having this certificate offers no evidence whatsoever that the certificate holder has any skill, and does not demonstrate their hours of flight time nor flight experience.

It is important to note that hiring a non-certificated pilot carries large fines for the hiring agency/individual. Do not hire a non-certificated sUAS operator.

2)   Ask to see a certificate (proof) of insurance. Some DSP and instructors hold full-time insurance, while less professional operations purchase insurance per flight.  They should hold at minimum, a million dollar liability policy. Ensure their insurance is written by a known company. There are a few inexpensive, fly-by-night insurance companies available to DSP’s.  A professional, business-focused DSP should be able to immediately provide proof of insurance or Certificate of Insurance.  Things can go wrong with any project; ensure your company, property, and business are protected by the DSP’s insurance policy. This is often one of the most overlooked aspect of an operation, and if the pilot does not have insurance, the person or organization hiring the pilot is at risk.  Many/most DSP and training organizations will have hull insurance to replace their aircraft in the event of an incident, while many “wing it” without liability coverage. It’s not uncommon for large companies or event management to require a certificate of insurance that specifically names them as a beneficiary of the insurance in the event of a claim. Without liability insurance, we recommend the training or service provider not be hired, or if hired, an understanding that risk exists.

 

3) Peruse their website. Are the images seen on their website relevant to the job to be flown? More importantly, is the DSP the source of the images? It’s common for low-experience DSP to liberally “borrow” from other websites, presenting images as intimated evidence of their work. The difficulty is knowing whether they captured the images themselves (or not). One quick method of determining a photo’s origins is to right click the image and choose “Search Google for this Image.” Click the image to see how many results come up in a search.
In this particular example (as
presented on several sites intimating the DSP is active in Public Safety), the image was not captured by a sUAS, but rather a hillside shot from a well-known AP photographer (image courtesy Associated Press).

Following Hurricane Irma for example, disaster images popped up across the web, with unqualified DSP’s intimating they captured the images and have the FEMA qualifications for disaster or insurance-related work when in practice, they do not.

It’s much easier to hire someone for real estate imaging than for a construction site capture that will be stitched into an orthogrammatic image, just as it’s more difficult to find a DSP that has knowledge of flare stack inspections vs finding someone to document a community marathon or event.  Ensure the DSP has knowledge surrounding specific needs to guarantee everyone’s happiness at the end of the flight. This is also a safety issue. Having a photo on a website should not be an indicator of activity nor proficiency.

4) View a reel of their work. This isn’t necessary when selecting a training organization, but is critical if the work being hired involves images, video, or data analysis output. Try to determine if they are the organization that captured the video or if the video has been “borrowed” from other websites similar to the example above. 

Are they proficient in shooting quality video or photos? Are they able to properly use tools such as Pix4D, AgiSoft, DroneDeploy for final output and data evaluation?

If using an aggregator, ask if the DSP has skills specific to the area where they’ll be working. Many drone pilots are very capable of shooting nice photos, but have little to no training/skill for specific tasks such as real estate or inspection images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5) Does the DSP hold any active operational waivers? This is critical if flight beyond sunset or prior to sunrise is required, and needed for flight over people, altitudes beyond 400’, flight in clouds, and other regulated activity. Without these, certain classifications of flight may not be accessible to the DSP nor the client.

If images like this one are seen on the website, it’s clear that the pilot does not observe FAA regulation, placing both the client and the pilot at risk for regulatory response by the FAA.

(image courtesy of ABC)

5) Who owns the original images/video? Spell this out in a Work for Hire contract if the client wants to own the source material. Most DSP’s will charge an additional fee if they do not retain rights to the original work. Determine how the work data will be kept secure in any event. Copyright nearly always belongs to the photographer/person who captured the images unless a signed Work for Hire agreement is part of the discussion.

6) If seeking a training provider, ask about their curriculum, training materials, and area of training. When it comes to flight, online-training is effectively useless, and practical flight programs require clear objectives with pre-test and post-training flight evaluations. One of the most valuable experiences a pilot or pilot’s organization can have is to be evaluated by a qualified third party.  Look for providers that embrace the Part 141 training pathway.

Look for any specialized certifications such as ISO audits, AUVSI’s TOP program certification, FAA certifications, or certifications from an other aviation-related training organization. Generally speaking, there is a significant difference between an instructor who teaches sUAS with risk-mitigation, and a super-hot, great sUAS pilot.

Ask about documentation that the pilot candidate will be taking with them post-instruction.

Identify what sort of post-training re-certification or recurrent training is recommended or required. Having a certificate from a reputable flight school will generally aid in applying for operational waivers and in some cases, may inspire an insurance provider to offer a discount based on training documents.

Hiring a DSP or training services provider/contractor in the world of Aviation isn’t quite as straightforward as it might seem.  It’s not terribly different than the facade buildings of the 19th century; something looks great on the surface, but in actuality, the backside is found wanting.

UAS are regulated by federal law, and any organization wants to take steps to ensure their services and education fall within all parameters of regulations. Following the above steps should help any organization avoid pitfalls related to safety and quality work.

sUAS and the 1 October Tragedy

1 October, Harvest Festival, Route 91” are all synonymous to Nevadans and first responders, marking the America’s worst-yet mass shooting event when a lone gunman in a high-rise hotel opened fire on concert goers (the official investigatory title for this event is “1 October”).

  • 58 victims died of gunshot wounds.   
  • 422 individuals were injured by gunfire.  
  • Approximately 800 concert attendees were injured from gunfire, trampling, or other injury escaping the chaos.

Over the course of several hours following the shooting;  law enforcement, fire, EMS services, and civilians acted as one to manage the scene, transporting victims to local hospitals, secure the area, and begin collection of evidence.

sUAS ON SCENE

sUAS were a component of the evidence-gathering process under the direction of the FBI and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD).


LVMPD partnered with Nevada Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Investigation and Reconstruction Team and their sUAS as part of the scene given the size of the site, and the amount of data that needed to be collected in a short period of time. An outside technical advisor was also brought in to advise and as a subject matter expert to ensure automated mission compliance and best-practices were observed in each of the missions.

THE AREA

The area to be captured via sUAS was just over 19 acres in overall size.

Two primary considerations for data integrity:

  • Corruption of image from shadow/moving sun in a static environment
  • Corruption of area from propwash

To combat the second issue, altitudes for flight were selected based on height and downdraft from the aircraft.

Two types of aircraft were evaluated, a quadcopter and a hexacopter. The hexacopter offered significantly less ground disturbance and was selected for the mission. It was also much quieter and was expected to not attract undue attention at any altitude, as there were many tourists along Las Vegas Boulevard.

In order to counter the primary issue it was determined that the area would be captured with three simultaneous flights, spatially and temporally separated.

The mission requirements shed light on several challenges.

  • The site is located in Class B airspace, less than 500’ from active aprons, taxiways, and runways.
  • An active investigation underway created concern for flight in areas over investigators inside the secured perimeter.
  • Time was at a premium, as this is an outdoor venue and weather/sun were actively degrading evidence.
  • Helicopters from tour companies were not observant of the in-place TFR, and were constantly in the airspace, trying to show the crime scene to tourists.
  • Completing the missions within a narrow window of time was a crucial element so as to obtain the best possible images at all four primary areas of flight without shadow distortion.
  • A delicate balance of altitude and resolution needed to be struck to not affect evidence while obtaining the highest resolution possible.


Plans for automated flight were discussed on-site with time of flight determined by angle of sun. Once plans were determined and drawn, FBI and LVMPD personnel approved the automated flight areas, altitudes, and speed of flight. The automated, map-mission flight paths were programmed into each of the three ground stations, and verified by all authorized parties.

Flight plans included 85% overlap, 70% sidelap, with 25% additional area beyond the festival grounds captured for clean edges at the optical extremes.

Altitudes of flight were 60’, 90’, 150’, and 200’ with 5’ altitude offsets from center

North and South areas began flight in an easterly/westerly direction, while the center area began northerly/southerly directions, 5’ lower than north/south units. Temporal, horizontal,  and vertical separation ensured no possibility of mid-air collision existed.

Road closures surrounding the crime scene provided a secure area for launch/recovery of aircraft with no traffic in the area, providing for VLOS over the 19 acre property.

Once safety checks and the normal pre-flight checks were completed, the aircraft were placed in the launch/recovery area and three aircraft were launched eight minutes apart.

During flight, the ground station controller provided real-time feedback indicating where images have been captured.  


Donning sterile suits required to enter the perimeter of the crime scene allowed for manual flight in specific areas where closer inspection of complicated surfaces were required. Manual flights inside the area perimeter provided insights not visible from the ground level. Examples of projectile impact were found on a power pole at the intersection of two streets, and two impact points were discovered in the relay tower speakers that had not previously been found.

Original image courtesy of Las Vegas Review/Journal/modified by author

These areas were complicated for UAS flight, crossed with guy wires for tower stability, speaker cables strung across steel rigging, lighting instruments, hot, black metal in turbulent winds in areas where three observers were placed to assist the pilot in flying in these tight, physically and optically challenging spaces around the stage, speaker towers, food court/tents, billboard signage, and fence perimeters.

Original image courtesy of Las Vegas Review/Journal/modified by author

Following the nine flights (3×3) over the main grounds, a separate mission was executed over the abandoned hotel that extends into the entertainment property. These missions were a combination of manual inspection when potential evidence was observed, and automated mapping flights to capture the at-present data. In this particular instance, the benefits of the hexacopter were appreciated; turbulent ground winds, rotors, powerlines, palm trees, a confined area, and limited physical access each contributed to the challenges of this series of missions. VLOS was maintained with the observer standing on the rear of a patrol vehicle due to a high, covered fence and a limited launch area.


Three automated group flights at three altitudes, separate stage and hotel flights, manual flight inside the perimeter captured over 6,000 images. These images were input to two dimensional and three dimensional software applications for orthagonal mapping and 3D modelling. Survey markings were taken from previously operated TotalStation sites and physical objects used as GCP.

The author has not seen the final results from the orthogrammatic image render. The planned workflow is to render each of the separate areas for consistent GSD, added into a master render for each altitude. Once the flights were complete, memory cards were handed over to the federal agency.

This was very much a team effort. ATC, McCarran Airport, FAA, City of Las Vegas, Department of Public Safety, FBI, local subject matter expert, and other investigative agencies worked within a highly communicative environment to ensure no evidence was compromised, that all personnel were aware of each others activities, data/areas logged for clarity, and flights indicated in written, pictorial, and telemetry formats were shared between teams.

 

LOOKING BACK

Until October 1, the World Trade Center had been the largest physical crime scene in America with a total area of approximately seven and a half acres. 1 October is nearly three times in size.  Due to persons involved with both scenes, availability of data and cost from the two events may be compared and examined to gain an understanding of technical and operational improvements over the past 17 years.

 

In the last week of September, 2001, a Super Twin Otter with several sensor systems was called up to capture data from the World Trade Center scene.

Flying orbital and grid patterns over the course of five days, significant amounts of data were collected for analysis by multiple agencies.

Costs were reported over 1.5M, including fuel, personnel, equipment, and time.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Although the images captured are still classified, data from surrounding, unrelated areas demonstrate the poor quality of image capture. By comparison with modern technology, the images are of limited value, offering little useful data (by comparison).

The time, cost, labor, headcount, and quality of data are all areas where UAV have proven their value to law enforcement, and in this case, costing $1.5M vs $15,000 (cost of three aircraft, batteries, and accessories), while providing incalculably greater value through images that may be digitally shared in 2D, 3D form, annotated, analysed simultaneously by multiple agencies and investigators.

SUMMARY

The value of sUAS proved itself through rapid access to available airspace, speed of operation, quality of data, cost of operation, ability of continuous flight, noise and traffic impact on the surrounding area and area of investigation, speed to solution, instant verification of data capture and image quality, ability to simultaneously capture multiple areas, and most importantly, safety to all persons involved in the acquisition of data,  processing and investigation of the 1 October scene.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Global Security Exchange X-Learning Stages to Address Intersection of Security and Technology

FOR RELEASE:  September 18, 2018

Media Contact:
Peggy O’Connor
pr@asisonline.org
+1.703.518.1415

AERIAL VEHICLE OPERATIONS CENTER/AVOC to be on display at GSX, demonstrating present and future technologies for sUAS in Security Operations

Alexandria, VA – September 15, 2018  Security is an ever-evolving landscape and sUAS (Drones) are an undeniable,  significant component of future security operations. sUAS are disrupting virtually every corner of the security, law enforcement, and event management industries.

Sundance Media Group (SMG) and their AVOC will be center stage at the Global Security Exchange (GSX) conference being held Sept 23-27 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. In the first year of its rebrand following a 63-year history as the ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits, GSX is expected to attract more than 20,000 operational and cyber security professionals and 550 exhibitors for the industry’s flagship event. ASIS International is the world’s largest association for security management professionals.

“The AVOC is a game-changer in event security and security operations demonstration,” said Jennifer Pidgen, COO of SMG, “The technology and ability have already demonstrated their value in a post 10/1 environment. “ Coupling aerial robotics with automated perimeter security, 360 video, and a low-profile, controlled environment makes for a cost-effective, low profile presence for outdoor venue security and perimeter monitoring.  Attendees of the GSX conference will have opportunity to walk through the AVOC, see the latest technology in simulated use, speak with sUAS experts in the security and law enforcement sectors, and gain a deeper understanding of how sUAS are currently being implemented, and how security organizations may implement sUAS in the future near and far.

Douglas Spotted Eagle, Director of Educational Programming said, “we are thrilled to be a part of the GSX experience, demonstrating security and forensic applications of sUAS for both day and night functions, controlled through our AVOC, as well as outside the AVOC for smaller events. The computer horsepower, display systems, and aircraft combine for a near invisible presence in the skies as overwatch and perimeter security, and we believe attendees of the GSX event will be surprised and enthusiastic about the opportunity to know more about drones in this changing environment.”

At GSX, the exhibit hall will be transformed into a learning lab environment featuring thousands of security products, technologies and service solutions, as well as immersive learning opportunities designed to connect the current threat landscape, as well as emerging risks, with leading solutions available in the marketplace. New features available on this year’s show floor include:

X-Learning Theaters:

X Stage—features leading-edge technologies and their impacts across the industry, examining innovations like blockchain and cryptocurrencies, AI, drones and robotics, social media and the digital self;

Xcelerated Exchange Stage—provides a forum for the critical discussions that need to take place between practitioners and solution providers to proactively address the current and future security landscape; and

Xperience Stage—showcases case studies and other tried-and-true best practices that address security challenges facing practitioners across all industry sectors, including active shooter scenarios, bullying in the healthcare industry, and the risks associated with hosting a public event at cultural institutions.

Career HQ, with new career fair and enhanced career center:
Job seekers will have access to resume reviews, a headshot studio, career coaching, professional development sessions and networking opportunities with employers and peers—all free. The new career fair will have top companies looking to hire talent, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Apple.

D3 Xperience (Drones, Droids, Defense):
Supported by Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), D3 will deliver an immersive learning experience focused on the impact of Unmanned Systems on the security industry. Education and demos will showcase the emerging technology around the use of drones, droids and counter-UAV defense systems.
Innovative Product Awards (IPAs) Showcase:

The 2018 Innovative Product Awards highlights the new products and services on the GSX show floor that are poised to disrupt the security marketplace. The submission deadline is August 3.

In addition to these features, the exhibit floor will house an International Trade Center and the ASIS Hub, which includes access to ASIS Council representatives, live streaming interviews, and fireside chats.

“We have completely re-engineered GSX to provide more opportunities for security practitioners, solution providers, students, military and first responders. From Career HQ and the International Trade Center to our three unique theaters of education and live demos, attendees and exhibitors will find tremendous value in our immersive, engaging, and informative expo hall,” said Richard E. Chase, CPP, PCI, PSP, 2018 president, ASIS International. “There is no other event that compares to what GSX is offering this year, and we’re just getting started. We will continue to evolve and grow GSX in the years ahead as a part of our new brand promise to unite the full spectrum of security professionals to create the only global “must attend” security event.”

GSX brings together attendees, speakers, exhibitors and press from more than 100 countries. To learn more and to register, visit www.GSX.org/register. Members of the press are eligible to receive a free all-access pass, including keynote presentations, education sessions, and the show floor. Email pr@asisonline.org with your media credentials to register.

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About Global Security Exchange

Entering its 64th year, Global Security Exchange (formerly the ASIS International Annual Seminar & Exhibits) is the world’s most comprehensive event for security professionals worldwide, dedicated to addressing fast-paced changes across the industry with a focus on immersive learning, revitalized networking, and a reimagined exhibit floor.

Attendance at GSX directly supports scholarship programs and the development of education, certification, and standards and guidelines year-round. ASIS International remains dedicated to expanding and enriching knowledge sharing, best practices, and peer-to-peer connections so security professionals across disciplines—and at all stages of their career—can get access to the information and resources they need to succeed. For information, visit www.GSX.org.

About  Sundance Media Group

Founded in 1996, Sundance Media Group/SMG began as a training organization focused on cameras, codecs, and post-production technology. In 2004, the company began training in aviation technology, adding sUAS in 2011. In 2012, SMG produced the world’s first UAS training conference at the National Association of Broadcasters Post Production World Conference and is an ISO-compliant organization.

With experts in Public Safety, Construction, Vertical Inspection, Real Estate, and Cinematography, SMG instructors may be found speaking at technical, aviation, and UAS conferences around the globe. For more information on SMG, please visit www.sundancemediagroup.com