What does aviation have to do with the fire department?
Remote-controlled model aircraft (RCMA); unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); drones. No matter what you call them, they’re increasingly becoming part of our daily environment. But how does this affect fire department operations and reporting?
RCMAS/UAVs are readily available, and as technology improves—and combined with decreases in cost—they’ll very likely become more prevalent in the currently unrestricted commercial market. RCMA/UAVs can be used in a range of legitimate scenarios (with Amazon.com delivery and selling real estate catching a lot of reporting), and for the most part are being used in this way, but many illicit uses are also being explored.
Advanced features, including high-quality, real-time cameras, may enable nefarious actions. Some potential illicit uses include:
- Aerial surveillance and reconnaissance
- Cause disruption
- Diversionary device
- Chemical/biological/radiological dispersal
- A mechanism of attack (explosive laden or weaponized)
Below are some FBI case examples of thwarted RCMA/UAV attacks in the Homeland and some FAA reported SAR activity of unknown motive.
- In November 2012, Rezwan Ferdaus was sentenced to 17 years in prison after admitting to planning to blow up the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol using remote-controlled planes laden with explosives.
- In April 2014, the FBI arrested El Mehdi Semlali Fahti on immigration charges related to an expired student visa. Further investigation revealed a plot by Fahti to blow up a school and a government building in Connecticut using a bomb attached to a UAS.
- In August 2014, U.S. Capitol police detained an individual operating a UAS within the Capitol grounds.
- In October 2014, Prince George’s County (Md.) police responded to reports of a UAS flying 150 feet over FedEx Stadium.
- In October 2014, Bowling Air Force Base reported a UAS hovering at about 150 feet above areas of the base.
As these systems become more advanced and larger payloads become more realistic, they have the potential to become more menacing when used by individuals looking to impose harm. Partnering with hobby shops, online venders and enthusiasts will help identify behaviors that may indicate illicit activities. Continue to report suspicious use of these systems.