Drones have recently become hot news once again, with some talking up their use in the security industry. It is critical for customers to realise that drones are an excellent tool in the safety and security arsenal in the never-ending fight against crime, but they are only a tool, one of many needed for an effective security solution.
Waal De Waal, chief operating officer at Bidvest Protea Coin (BPC), explains that the company has been using drones in its tactical operations since 2013. “This puts us at the forefront of the implementation of drone technology in crime prevention as we have been leading the development of this aerial technology over the years.
“The strategic acquisition by Bidvest of UDS (UAV & Drone Solutions) two years ago ensures that we remain one of the industry leaders when it comes to smart aerial surveillance.”
De Waal states that the key to drone usage is the word ‘tactical’. The drone element of a security service needs to be part of the full solution, which in the case of BPC includes security officers and armed response on the ground, positioned to respond quickly and effectively to any alerts the drones provide and even be backed up by helicopters and other response teams when required.
Since drones can cover a large distance in their patrols, this makes them ideal for perimeter security and for covering large areas of open ground. However, here again, if the ground forces are not strategically placed to respond to any incidents, the drone has limited scope.
De Waal says that each customer has a different risk acceptance model. “Some customers want detection, detention and arrests, while others may simply prefer detection and deflection of the perpetrators from their sites.”
As an example, one BPC client wanted drone coverage over a large area, but did not want to invest in the recommended ground staff (tactical response vehicles etc.) which resulted in the following statistics:
• BPC performed 11 500 hours of drone flights at 12 sites over 12 months.
• 589 suspects were identified during the operations.
• 113 arrests were made.
“What this means is that 81% of suspects were never apprehended due to the lack of a tactical approach to the operation,” says De Waal.
“Our approach to delivering effective tactical operation solutions to our clients is guided by a site-specific security and safety plan that is designed for each customer’s requirements. The design and implementation of an effective operation includes the deployment of our drones and helicopter, tactical ground response units and centralised control of the operation.”
Over the period between January and May 2021, BPC operations using drones have produced excellent results. Some of the successes include:
• The recovery of 1.9 tons of copper cable.
• Recovery of 9000 litres of diesel.
• 89 arrests.
• 73 illegal miners detected and deflected from entering a mine in one operation.
• 300 suspects deflected in various tactical operations.
Customised, integrated solutions
BPC’s operations are designed around its customers’ security philosophy and take into account the intelligence gathered, risk, location, terrain and size of the site. “Our core focus is providing tactical aerial surveillance to, among others, the mining sector, petrochemical sector, large industrial facilities, linear infrastructure such as rail, power and large resorts. Our value-added solutions include engineering, high wall and contractor compliance inspections. Stockpile management and blast clearance inspections are also highly sought-after services.”
One recent case on an open pit mine saw a drone spotting civilians on the site minutes before blasting took place. By alerting the management, blasting was cancelled until the people were evacuated.
Of course, drones are also deployed to look after the safety of BPC’s own personnel by detailing the threat it detects and for example, whether weapons are present and the numbers of suspects/assailants. In many cases, the drones are used with their lights on to provide warning of their presence and to deter or deflect the planned attack or intrusion. This is also important in light of the pandemic as it can deflect criminal activities without requiring security officers to come into contact with people and vice versa.
Providing the customer, the BPC control room as well as staff on the ground with extended situational awareness not only keeps people safe and ensures responses are in line with the risks, but also allows for a continual monitoring of the security strategy to ensure BPC continually delivers the best service.
Ensure a properly thought out deployment
De Waal adds that not all drones are equal, nor can they be used at any time. For example, some drones have a flight time of 20 to 40 minutes before their battery runs out so their patrols are quite short before they need to return for a battery change. Other drones can fly for three or four hours, but this flight time depends on what the drone is carrying – for example, a visual camera and/or a thermal camera, lights etc.
The use of drones is also subject to strict legal controls as well as environmental conditions: drones cannot be launched when it is raining or in strong wind. The legal requirements further stipulate each flight must be logged in advance and the drones must be piloted by qualified pilots.
“This again demonstrates that drones should be part of a strategic security plan to ensure the right devices are used for each customer’s requirements,” says De Waal. “This means the strategic planning and customised SOPs (standard operating procedures) for each client are critical and must be designed with care to meet the customer’s requirements.”
Additionally, De Waal comments on the myth of criminals shooting down drones. BPC drones fly at a height of about 150 m and are always moving, even when hovering, which means that hitting a drone is extremely difficult.
An integrated, strategic solution
The use of drones in the safety and security market is a given, states De Waal. However, it is important for customers to note that a drone is like a surveillance camera or a secure access control point. It is a tool that must be used strategically to enhance the tactical capabilities of the service provider to achieve the results customers want.
“Simply having a drone in the air is of little value unless the devices are integrated into the rest of your services to ensure any information received can be acted upon and the relevant response initiated.”
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