Securetech 2015 - an assessment

Dec 3, 2015

Securetech day 2 – My personal wow moment with Unmanned vehicles for first responders

I have written before about the expertise that resides in Canada in the area of safety and security, but nowhere has this been clearer to me than at Securetech’s session about unmanned systems for first responders. Who (other than FrontLine readers) would have guessed that the first successful search and rescue by UAV anywhere in the world happened in Canada? Saskatoon to be exact. Canada is becoming a hub of activity spawning widespread experimentation, looking for new applications for first responders to use UAVs to improve response capability. Canada is being internationally sought out for this kind of expertise. In fact, one of the Securetech panel speakers, Paramedic Chief Michael Nolan from Renfrew was about to head for Turkey to give a presentation about his experience with UAV’s for first responders, and Mark Aruja from Unmanned Systems Canada talked about work in Haiti for population flow and surveillance with the United Nations. 

What was impressive was the wide range of examples of where these UAVs have provided first responders with a new tool that enables them to be more effective. Here are a few examples provided by Chief Nolan in talking about the capabilities of the UAVs and their uses:

“In the bush, we get sketchy info at best – but with [UAV] technology, we fly over the ice and see whether response is required, where the incident is, and plan accordingly”

“Payloads can be interchanged to allow for multiple tasks – thermal imaging for search and rescue, a cargo pod for delivery of items, high resolution cameras for scene investigation, HAZMAT sensors for hazardous area assessment, radio relay for extended communications…”

UAVs have also proven effective to help secure a site before the police arrive, identifying where the “bad guys” are (or are not) and enabling incoming officers to operate in a way that is safer for them.

Chief Nolan summarized the cost effectiveness of the UAVs with the following line: “A UAV costs less than the stretcher we push”.

Steve Palmer from the Collaborative Center for Justice and Safety at the University of Regina also mentioned how UAVs are being used by RCMP in Saskatchewan (and other police authorities) to look at spills and plot approaches based on the aerial imagery. Some of the applications include monitoring for poachers, or along railway lines for fires.

FrontLine writer, Richard Bray, interviewed Chief Nolan and Steve Palmer in October for an in-depth article.

Given Canada’s leadership in UAVs for first responders and the range of lifesaving applications that I heard about at Securetech, expect to see more articles about this in the future in Frontline Safety and Security including a deeper look at the good work of Unmanned Systems Canada an organization based in Ottawa with a strong advocacy and organizing role in the area.

In particular, we will be looking at the cockeyed situation where those tasked with keeping the public safe are severely restricted and regulated in the uses of these small UAVs, while criminals and the general public have few, if any restrictions. FrontLine feels the laws must change to reflect the benefits of this new reality for our police, fire and emergency medical services, and we will delve into this topic in much greater detail in 2016.

Closing thoughts from Securetech 2015.  

The conference sessions at Securetech 2015 were very relevant and worth attending.  It has driven home the importance of events like this to bring safety and security people together.  Seeing so many municipal first line responders at the Municipal Emergency Operations session; government workers at the Terrorist Threats to Canada session; military staff at the Personal Protective Equipment session; and the mix of private and public sector at Cyber Security; demonstrated just how varied the safety and security community is, and the broad range of subjects that need to be covered to help this group be more effective. However, it is this breadth of people and topics that frankly make it difficult to organize events like this, and kudos to CADSI for putting it together.

Given everything I saw at Securetech 2015, the innovation stage, the conferences, the booths, and what looks like a growing focus by CADSI on the needs of first responders, and safety and security at its broadest sense, I look forward to Securetech 2016.