Radiological Detection - A Strategy for Changing Public Opinion

by Joseph Trindal

Changing dynamics in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology for the law enforcement community has the potential for rapid growth. Once public perception of UAV deployment by police agencies moves beyond the inaccurateea of military application, state and local police agency use will become commonplace. UAVs are currently used in civilian law enforcement missions for border security and have a limited but proven record of efficient support in other emergency service missions. An important, yet often overlooked, public safety UAV application is radiological threat detection at major events. The use of personal radiation detectors (PRDs) by law enforcement officers has become a widely accepted best practice for early threat detection. Some agencies even deploy PRDs for daily police patrol operations.

Integrating radiation sensors as a public safety payload configuration for UAV deployment is a current capability with future benefits for local law enforcement. Sensors carried overhead at major events can provide protective threat intelligence faster and over a larger area than ground-based sensor/detector deployment, either on police personnel or at fixed locations. This form of threat-intelligence collection and analytics is significantly enhanced with the application of video surveillance on the same elevated UAV platform. UAV deployment of radiological sensors is more cost effective than assigning the resources necessary to achieve the same level of ground coverage. UAV radiological sensors should not replace ground-based capabilities; rather, the UAV application is a value-added enhancement.

UAV public safety operations supporting law enforcement efforts offer economies of scale as police resources decrease. The UAV combined sensor/surveillance asset enhances the effectiveness of ground-based police response personnel by providing real-time mobile positioning of a potential threat. A UAV configured for this application could remain overhead to provide commanders geospatial references for officers on the ground to intercept and mitigate or thwart a suspected threat. The integration of UAV assets together with ground-based police personnel engaged in protective public safety missions is a growing opportunity for police agencies.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles & Response Capabilities Acknowledging the value of UAVs, public safety applications can greatly assist police agencies in overcoming negative public perception of their use. Recently, a number of local police agencies reported that they have postponed plans to acquire UAV capabilities amid public opinion backlash. Generating public support is a fundamental strategic step in acquiring UAV technology. As such, formulating the justification in a context of threat prevention and efficient criminal interdiction may be beneficial.

As police agencies plan to acquire and deploy UAV capabilities, there is a wide range of integration elements to consider. UAV deployment requires integration with agency-, event-, and incident-specific command and control structures. When assets are configured for radiological sensor application, agencies should consider integration with the multidisciplinary, interagency response capabilities – for example, a UAV deployment in support of a major sporting event. UAV-configured sensor detection coupled with a ground response for adjudication requires one level or degree of command coordination. However, it is vital that agencies plan beyond the level-one response.

If the source is an active, nondispersed radiological threat, a broader interagency response may be required. UAV surveillance capability may remain a very important asset to the incident command activities at both the operational and tactical levels. However, certain conditions such as the detonation of a dirty bomb may require an immediate change in UAV operations to avoid worsening the situation. This is only one simple example of the complex contingencies that local community emergency service agencies should consider when developing integrated plans for using the future UAV assets to enhance their operations.

Broader Opportunities With Radiological Sensors Focusing on relevant local strategies for “selling” the concept of UAV applications in support of public safety responsibilities, such as radiological sensor deployment, could help police agencies overcome adverse public perception. Additionally, the interagency value of UAV technology for fire situational awareness, wilderness search and rescue, hazardous material mitigation and response, and many more applications provides vast opportunities for broader multidisciplinary, community-based support. As local budgets continue to affect the staffing of emergency services agencies, technological solutions such as UAV deployment with sensor and surveillance capabilities can be a cost-effective solution to satisfy the high demand for public safety during a period of diverse and dynamic threat conditions.

___________________ Joseph Trindal is president and founder of Direct Action Resilience LLC, where he leads the company’s portfolio of public and private sector preparedness and response consulting, training, and exercise services. He also serves as president of the InfraGard National Capital Region Members Alliance. He retired in 2008 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he had served as director for the National Capital Region, Federal Protective Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In that post, he was responsible for the physical security, law enforcement operations, emergency preparedness, and criminal investigations of almost 800 federal facilities throughout the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and suburban Maryland. He previously served, for 20 years, with the U.S. Marshals Service, attaining the position of chief deputy U.S. marshal and incident commander of an emergency response team. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he holds degrees in both police science and criminal justice.