Oklahoma Tests Surveillance Drones for Homeland Security

Kaye Beach

Oct. 16, 2012

“I don’t know how much [drones] will be used within the U.S.,” says Ruth Doherty, a top official with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate tasked with countering the domestic threat of homemade bombs. Asked about domestic drone use for bomb-spotting by Danger Room, she replies, “A case has to be made that they’re economically feasible, not intrusive and acceptable to the public.”  http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/01/spy-drones-over-america-dhs-would-rather-not/

That was less than a year ago that DHS made that statement.  Now?  Here they come and in Oklahoma no less!

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin put out a press release on June 28, 2012 about the program and carefully avoided any indication of law enforcement use of the drones choosing instead to focus on life saving, first responder uses.  “The program will research and test Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS), focusing on possible applications for first responders, including search and rescue scenarios, response to radiological and chemical incidents and fire response and mapping.” read more

Danger Room‘s Spencer Ackerman reports on Oct. 8, 2012

In the coming months, Fort Sill, Oklahoma will become a proving ground to learn what small surveillance drones can add to “first responder, law enforcement and border security scenarios,” according to a recent solicitation to the country’s various drone manufacturers. Each selected drone will undergo five days’ worth of tests as part of a new program from DHS’ Science and Technology directorate, called Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety or, gloriously, RAPS.

Like many in the military experimenting with drone miniaturization, DHS is thinking small. The drones it wants to bring to Fort Sill will ideally be launched by hand, like the Army and Marines’ Raven. They should weigh under 25 pounds. Assembly should take a matter of minutes, and training for their remote pilots and technician a matter of days. DHS isn’t looking for drones that can loiter over an area for a long time: just 30 minutes to two hours, a hint that the department doesn’t foresee drones becoming a primary surveillance tool. “Law enforcement operations, search and rescue, and fire and hazardous material spill response” are some of the potential drone missions the RAPS program envisions.

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