The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) today announced the launch of a public safety unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program. The department’s multi-purpose, small UASs will be used for a variety of public safety missions across Texas, including flight missions related to: officer safety, search and rescue, disaster support, aerial observation support, crash reconstruction, crime scene photography, and communication tower inspections. The UASs can deploy rapidly and provide clear and immediate images and crucial situational awareness to the law enforcement and first responders responsible for protecting and serving Texans. The UAS is an excellent tool to deploy when DPS aircraft are unavailable; if a mission is too dangerous for manned aircraft to be deployed; or when deemed more cost effective than conventional aircraft.
DPS employees operating a UAS must be FAA certified and receive at least 10 hours of practical training. To date, three DPS employees have received the required UAS training and are now authorized to begin operating a DPS UAS during daylight hours. So far, the program’s fleet includes 17 UASs, which may increase as public safety needs warrant. The 17 aircraft cost a total of approximately $70,000, and were paid for with existing funding, grant funding or seized funds.
The UAS program will provide critical aerial support and will bolster the work of the existing DPS aircraft fleet, which includes fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters. The conventional aircraft fleet regularly conducts numerous and specialized public safety missions and aerial operations throughout the state. With the addition of the UAS program, the DPS aircraft fleet now totals 41 – with nine planes, 15 helicopters and 17 UASs.
As with all of DPS flight missions, the department’s UAS program must comply with department policy, Texas laws, and federal rules and regulations to ensure that the privacy rights of the people in the State of Texas are respected and upheld. The department’s policy (adopted in December 2017) related to the UAS program can be found here: http://www.dps.texas.gov/docs/prCh4Anx11.pdf.