In October 2017, the Public Safety Aviation Accreditation Commission (PSAAC) and the Airborne Law Enforcement Association announced new guidelines and regulations for public safety agencies using drones as part of their efforts in law enforcement and search-and-rescue operations. These new guidelines were designed not just to get the best possible use out of this still-young drone technology, but to assure the public that public safety agencies were operating their drones both ethically and safely.
These new regulations were specifically designed so that drone operators bore the same obligations to operate their craft safely as manned pilots, and the policies were based around five key points.
Chain Of Command
The PSAAC has stated that any program involving drone use will have a strictly defined chain of command, and that all members of the program will be familiar with it. It will be clear who each member of the program reports to and answers to, and exactly who they will turn to in the event that a decision about drone use has to be made.
Furthermore, all related agencies are required to create extensive and detailed organizational charts listing all authorities involved in the program. Any independent contractors must also sign documentation stating they are aware of and will work within the chain of command.
The new PSAAC guidelines state that any public safety drone program will fully disclose its budget, as well as the source of the funding. The budget must also be enough to comprehensively fund the program, from pilots to repair and maintenance of the drones themselves.
The purpose of this new regulation is two-fold: It ensures that all drone programs have enough of a budget to be effective, and that the public can tell where their tax dollars are going, as that is often the main source of public safety departments’ budgets.
The third regulation involves consistent communication between the authorities of the drone programs and the community. The PSAAC policy states that in order for the public to fully embrace a form of technology that is still in its infancy, relatively speaking, they have to have the opportunity to know as much as possible about it, and they should know everything that drone equipment is being used for.
The PSAAC requires that each agency have a policy regarding mandatory annual reports that summarize all of the previous year’s operations. The reports must contain measurements of the drones’ effectiveness, the state of the equipment and how they plan to make improvements. That report must be made available to the public upon request.
This report keeps the public informed on how agencies are using their drone technology.
Inquiries and Complaint Processing
The PSAAC states that there is a mandatory policy for how inquiries and complaints should be handled, and how investigations into the complaints will be conducted. The reports on the complaints will include any member of the agency involved and the employees mentioned in the complaint or inquiry, and it also requires that any cases of drone misuse be immediately reported.
The theme of these new regulations is to ease the mind of a public that’s heard a lot about drones in the news, but might not know many of the facts about how they’re used in public safety. And interestingly enough, the new PSAAC guidelines inspired a less binding list of guidelines for amateur pilots of UAS (unmanned aerial systems) drones.