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.

 

 

CSI and sUAS: Tools for the Crime Scene Analyst

FoxFury, Pix4D, Sundance Media Group (SMG), and the Nevada Drone Center of Excellence came together during the InterDrone Conference, sharing techniques and technology used for capturing forensic scenes during night hours. This event will be repeated during the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas on October 3, at the WestGate hotel. Register now for the Commercial UAV Expo CSI demonstration.

Sundance Media Group and the CSI data may also be viewed at Booth #5413 at the Global Security eXchange Security Conference and Expo, September 23-27 in Las Vegas, NV at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  Register for the GSX show HERE.

Douglas Spotted Eagle addresses a crowd gathered for a crime scene/sUAS demo with local crime scene investigators, FoxFury, Pix4D, and Sundance Media Group

As you’d expect, the ratio of nighttime vs daytime crime is much higher,” said one investigator from a local law enforcement agency. “This sort of training and experience provides greater depth to our toolkit. We are grateful to have partners willing to research and share experiences that may benefit our agency.”

Using FoxFury Nomad Hi CRI, daylight-balanced lighting, to light the scene in an area of East Henderson where no power and no available light existed, the team used Hollywood makeup techniques, a bit of stage blood, and shell casings to re-create a genuine crime scene. The “crime scene” was kept pristine as nearly 100 attendees looked on.

The FoxFury Nomads, properly positioned, provide a no/low-shadow environment with accurate colors.

Most LED lighting systems will generate a color-cast that may create problems in the post-capture investigation. Moreover, the lights do not require cabling that can trip up those on-scene, or create their own form of scene contamination. To place them, we merely pull down three legs, raise the pillar, and power up the lights. At half intensity, the lights provide approximately 12 hours of lighting,” says Douglas Spotted Eagle of Sundance Media Group. The FoxFury Nomads may be charged over a 12v connection in a patrol/support vehicle as well. 

FoxFury Rugo’s are placed on the aircraft for additional lighting as well as for FAA compliance. The Rugo provides a constant flash indicator in addition to options for Flood, Flat, or Pinspot light distribution. The Rugo mounts for the Yuneec and DJI products offer a 360 swivel, allowing for light control in any direction. Users may choose from four intensities in addition to the flash/cycle option.

 

James Spear talked about the aircraft lighting, saying “We use the FoxFury Rugo’s for our scene and night lighting not only due to the many options for lighting focus, but also because of the interchangeable batteries. At full intensity, we enjoy about an hour of flight time, yet the lights will operate for up to three hours at lower intensities.”

Ground Control Points were laid into place on the perimeter of the scene, taking care to ensure no one stepped into the scene. These are used as tie-points during the 2D and 3D assembly of the data, using Pix4Dmapper. The GCP’s for night capture are painted with Day-Glo paint colors for bright visibility and identification in the darkness of night. Similar techniques may be employed during thermal mapping projects (Pix4Dmapper on the desktop may be used for thermal mapping if the thermal camera properly embeds/captures meta-data). Shown here by Brady Reisch of the SMG team, the GCP’s are a highly-valued component to set scale constraints to the scene.

The area was flown with a drone equipped with a camera capturing GPS location, capturing a reduced area for purposes of avoiding flight over persons, and for expediency during the demonstration.

The pilot, wearing a Brother AiRScouter HUD, is able to simultaneously observe the aircraft and telemetry. Attendees of the event had opportunity to wear the HUD and appreciate the value of a constant display that enables pilots to observe the aircraft, telemetry, and video data, all at once.  Jennifer Pidgen of SMG commented, “We have equipped each of our pilots with the AiRScouter system not only for these scenarios, but more importantly for those times where we’re inspecting critical detail and looking away from the aircraft may increase risk. The AirScouter enables our pilots to observe the aircraft flying closely to objects while providing a constant stream of information to the pilot.”

The sUAS captured nearly 100 photos used to create the overall model/map of the scene. Normally, the scene would encompass the entire area in the event that there may be more clues hidden in the brush or sandy areas surrounding the site. Thermal may also be used to search for other bodies, or persons involved in the crew.

The images were then taken into the Sundance Media Group AVOC computers, where we assembled them as a low-resolution 2D file to verify all areas of the scene were adequately captured,” said Sam Pepple, of Pix4D. “Once verification and confirmation are complete, the scene may be released to the rest of the CSI team for standard investigation. Following the low-resolution verification, a high-resolution image was processed and evaluated by the team, as shown in the Pix4D booth at InterDrone.”

The point cloud of the scene is shared online here. Hold CTRL+SHIFT to rotate the scene in 3 dimensions.

Once the scene is captured, the rectified scene may be viewed internally or via secured online site by CSA, or Crime Scene Analysts, allowing measurements to be verified, retaken, or examined from a multitude of angles. 

The Sundance Media Group team will be demonstrating this experience at the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas on October 3. Location TBA, near the WestGate hotel (walking distance).  REGISTER HERE. It is recommended that attendees register early. The last event ran out of space/slots within three days.

Thank you to Pix4D, FoxFury, Brother, NDCOE, WestWind Unmanned, Las Vegas Metro, Henderson PD, and Sundance Media Group for their efforts to bring this to the attendees of the InterDrone event.

Douglas Spotted Eagle addresses a crowd of nearly 100 attendees at the CSI demo.

Sam Pepple of Pix4D addresses the crowd, describing how Pix4D will be used to capture the scene, the importance and value of GCP, and why these models are valuable to crime scene investigators. 

An investigator briefs the crowd on how UAS are changing the face of scene capture, and details how a scene is approached, observed, captured, and processed.

We captured the scene using multiple drones. Brady Reisch captured video of the event; we’ll soon have that available for viewing.

The SMG AVOC was the hub of activity prior to the night flight. Pizza and drinks provided by FoxFury and Pix4D.

The FoxFury Rugo lights are a key component to SMG night flight. They may be mounted  to nearly any sUAS platform including Yuneec H520, Hplus, DJI Phantom, Inspire 1, Inspire 2, Matrice 200 series, AEE Mach 4, and many others.

By | September 10th, 2018|Drone, Public Safety, sUAS, sUAS, sUAS Safety, Technology, Training, UAV|0 Comments

Airborne Law Enforcement Association

Join Douglas of Sundance Media Group and Yuneec, along with Joey Parker of Westwind as they present UAV for Law Enforcement at the ALEA (Airborne Law Enforcement Association) Safety Summit event in Pensacola, Florida at the ALEA Safety Summit.
Also presenting is David Martel of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

SMG provides training for Public Safety organizations; contact us today for a quote.

Douglas Spotted Eagle is the author of “UAV for Public Safety”

By | February 7th, 2018|0 Comments