If you're like me, you've probably thought of a drone as a "seek and destroy" kind of small plane that is used to hunt down terrorist activities in foreign countries.
But, when I recently read that Edward F. Davis, the Police Commissioner of Boston, was considering the use of drones for the 2014 marathon, I had to find out more about them. And, I learned some really interesting information that could change not only the face of running, but the face of law enforcement as a whole in the US.
|Police Commissioner of Boston, Edward F. Davis|
Photo by John Zaremba of the Boston Herald
First, what is a drone?
Its official name is an "unmanned aerial vehicle" (UAV) and they exist to conduct surveillance in areas that might otherwise be too difficult or risky for human-powered aircraft. They can be controlled in multiple ways, but most are through some form of remote control. Some UAV even can be set on their way and, once aloft, command themselves.
How are they used?
Again, primarily a piece of surveillance equipment, some drones are equipped with weaponry that can be deployed at a specific target thousands of feet or even miles away. By January of this year, the Pentagon operated more than 10,000 drones, including the Reaper and the Predator which weigh about 2,000 pounds (similar to a pick up truck.) Both can stay aloft for more than 24 hours, fly in untracked air space and may soon have the possibility to be remotely refueled.
But, now other drones being designed for domestic use are much, much smaller, including "Backpack" drones that weigh only one to four pounds. This has given rise to even smaller "Hummingbird" drones that have much less flying time capacity, but weigh only about the size of a AA battery.
Equipping domestic UAVs with non-lethal weapons (like tasers and rubber bullets) is also being investigated.
What does that mean for a large event like a marathon?
A local law enforcement agency could deploy multiple drones that would continually fly over and provide images of what's happening below. They could even provide thermal imaging similar to what was used in capturing the second bomber of the 2013 marathon, who was hiding in a small boat to avoid detection.
That means that there would be a birds eye view of everyone on the street, allowing law enforcement to scan the crowd, look for suspicious activity and even use face recognition software to identify known persons of interest.
Most of the drones--especially the smaller ones--don't even make any noise, so the general attendee wouldn't even notice they were there. (Especially those of us who huff and puff for air as we run blissfully unaware of our surroundings anyway!)
How is that different?
Some proponents say this is nothing more than the use of security cameras or large scale numbers of people taking video and still pictures. And, Google Street View cars have captured all kinds of images as they travel the world!
|Google Street View cars on show at the CeBIT |
trade fair in Hanover, Germany, in March 2010.
Photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images
Others say that, surveillance on that level is too invasive, since all of our moves could be detected in a larger area. After all, the department store security camera only catches a bit of us in action (you know...looking for the latest, greatest running skirt--sorry guys--and then showing it to all of our friends as we emerge onto the street.) A drone on the other hand, would catch us not only showing the running skirt, but the visits we made up and down the street trying to find a cool matching shirt and, yes, even the short stop to readjust a piece of what we're currently wearing.
Those against wide-spread use of domestic drones believe that we shouldn't be tracked in this manner. According to a recent report by the ACLU, "Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a 'surveillance society' in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government.
What do I see from the back of the pack?
A marathon or other running event is only a reflection of society as a whole. (Although, I'd like to believe it's generally a kinder, gentler depiction of society because runners are such awesome people!) And, I'm thinking that as long as it doesn't go the way of the airport detection scanners where they can see through my running skirt and cool new shirt, I'm OK with it.
Having said that, drones can't ensure that another Boston 2013 won't happen. I fully believe that if someone wants to wreak havoc, they'll find a way to do it.
But, the people who run large scale events like marathons must do something to respond to the tragic events that occur, even if it is just to provide an illusion of security. Marathon security will change and, unfortunately, most of it will probably inconvenience runners and their support crowds. For example, the Pittsburgh Marathon (to be run this Sunday, May 5) just announced that runners may only have fuel belts (small waistpacks that carry water and other endurance goodies) and Camelbacks (water backpacks) in the starting corrals. And, of course, all of that will be subject to search upon entering the corrals.
Even military runners who carry rucksacks must register the contents of their items at the Pittsburgh marathon office. Ironically, it was some of these runners who were able to help the injured at the Boston marathon bombing, even using the contents of their backpacks (Gatorade, socks, etc.) to help the victims.
Now, most runners--especially the better runners--don't carry a lot of stuff with them, but the rules have changed. And, whereas there were rules before, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will now be uniformly enforced.
So, if a drone can limit runner inconvenience while doing a better job of preventing unlawful activity, including murder or another terrorist attack, isn't it worth it?
If anything, I like that Police Commissioner Davis said he encourages looking into all the pros and cons, including cost, before making any final decisions. The other hurdles will include working within emerging state laws on drones and even finding available ones since they can be in short supply.
What do you think?
I don't know all the answers, so you tell me. Should surveillance drones be used at events such a big city marathons? Please comment below as long as you can maintain a civil discussion on the topic!
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