You already know clarity is key to any good policy.
But because drone use directly affects both public safety and privacy, defining your terms up front is very important. There are several things to consider as you write your drone policy:
- UAV/UAS/UAVS (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle, Unmanned Aerial System, Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle System): What type of vehicle will you be purchasing?
- Public Safety Agency: Which departments or agencies have access to the vehicle?
- Public Safety Purpose: What scenarios that warrant use of a UAV? Be as specific as possible.
- Operators/Personnel: Who will fly the vehicle? Who will have access to the room where vehicles are stored?
- Flight Data/Information: What information from the flight (time, date, path, purpose, request, etc) will you record?
Proactively defining your terms in the beginning will enable you to make stronger decisions as you move forward.
Take time to think about what’s important to you, and write a UAV policy that’s right for you, your department, and the well-being of your community.
Once you establish the basic terms of your unmanned aerial vehicle usage, you will want to consider other details that will affect your department and surrounding community.
From the get-go, be very clear about what capabilities the drone will have and what features you will not use. Only purchase UAVs that meet your predetermined use cases.
If you have already purchased a drone with additional capabilities or can’t find an exact fit, describe how those additional capabilities will be disabled or controlled.
Also, consider any requirements to protect against hijacking the vehicle (these are often built into the UAV itself). It’s important to put safeguards in place for inevitable repairs and maintenance.
Certification and training of operators
Knowing who will operate your vehicles is another important aspect of developing your policy. The FAA may be a helpful resource as you select and train your officers. They offer some training/materials to help become a pilot.
Gordnier recommends very clear standards when it comes to certification and training. He lists formal training and authorization from the FAA along with training in your department’s policies as prerequisites.
He also notes that because UAV use deals with unique public safety issues, general training in search, seizure, and privacy are helpful.
Operating policy and procedures
After you determine who will operate your vehicles, you can explore operating policy and procedures.
Start by appointing someone who will oversee the drone use in your department. This supervisor will work to ensure optimal safety, professionalism, and privacy.
He or she will also deal with other issues that might come up, including requests for drone use.
It’s important to consider how you want to receive and approve drone-usage requests and what criteria you will require.
Will you make allowances in emergency situations, and do local or state laws require any prior judicial approval? Make note of all of this in your policy manual.
Gordnier recommends capturing as much detail as possible in writing. For example, it might help to create a policy requiring team members to submit written requests for drone use. Keeping track of flight data and information are also helpful requirements.
Being clear about plans for data retention is also helpful in writing a drone policy. Information you log will be a helpful analysis tool for your agency in its pursuit of increased community safety.
However, not all data is created equal.
You will need to define relevant vs. non-relevant data ahead of time. What will you do with non-relevant data that isn’t used in an active investigation? How long will you store it? And will relevant data be available for public inspection?