SDM recently featured Allstate Security Industries (ASI) of Amarillo, Texas, in its cover story, "Is It Time for Drones & Robots?" as a company that was already employing drones in its security offerings. Allstate Security recently built a state-of-the-art monitoring center as well, so SDM decided to talk to Melinda Braden, ASI’s central station manager to ask a few questions about using drones as part of ASI’s security offering.
SDM: Not many companies are using drones for monitoring yet; what made Allstate decide to do so?
Braden: Allstate Security Industries has always provided its existing and potential customer base the very best in the advancement of security-based technology solutions, and with this rapidly expanding industry brings new cutting edge offerings that fit perfectly with our service solutions and growth plans.
SDM: Briefly describe how ASI utilizes drones.
Braden: ASI uses drones to protect businesses properties, to offer tours for private residences, to provide coverage of areas that our physical security force may not easily or safely be able to access, and many more.
SDM: What steps did you have to take to prepare your central station for drone monitoring?
Braden: Aside from training, licensing and having our operators complete the Part 107 exam [remote pilot exam], our infrastructure has been easily able to accommodate integrating the in-flight video feeds to our video wall, which allows us to become part of the control and observation team with the pilot and provide quick and efficient response and communications to clients and law enforcement departments when required.
SDM: Did your employees have to go through special training? If so, what did it entail?
Braden: They had to study, study and study FAA procedures, and take education and training courses. We took online classes and had discussions with local drone pilots and communicated with our local aviation offices, in addition to the exams and certifications. It has been great fun!
SDM: Did you have to hire anyone specifically for this?
Braden: No, our operators and security teams in the field have been and continue to be trained in the operational duties and educated about the current requirements of using drones. The central station aspect was straightforward, as we really feel we have made every effort to allow for integration of new services and systems like this, and we feel confident in saying we future-proofed our capabilities.
SDM: Describe the process of monitoring a drone (who flies it, who is observing it onsite or off, what is the drone looking for, etc.)
Braden: The first point of contact is the pilot — usually a field security officer with an observer close by — followed by a remote connection to our central station where we can remotely assume control of the device, leaving the two operatives at the location in visual range, and perform additional tours if required. During a security tour or perimeter check we are looking for individuals perhaps in places they have no authorization, vehicles, lost items, inspections for access, vandalism, weather damage, missing persons, parking violations, poachers, livestock wellness and location… There are so many things.
SDM: Do you have any examples of drone monitoring capturing something that traditional monitoring might not have picked up?
Braden: Well, there is one that springs to mind. We were able to locate a vehicle that our client had seen entering an open agricultural area but not leaving. The vehicle had been left after what we believe was an auto theft. The vehicle was damaged and abandoned a good 40 feet off the trail road; no tracks had been found leading off the road, but our drone operator found the car because they could easily identify the target by the aerial view, as it was behind foliage in longer grass unseen from the road. ASI will find you or your property!
SDM: I’m sure the customer was pleased; what has been the general customer response?
Braden: It’s still the early days, but the response from our existing clients and many new interested parties has been great. As we all know, this is a new application to our industry and still has the wow factor; we address privacy concerns as they are raised; cost of implementation is always a factor; training; and of course insurance. With feedback so far we expect drones to increase in their need and our services to align with that demand accordingly.
SDM: Were there any unexpected challenges/obstacles in the process? How did you overcome them?
Braden: Actually no. If research is completed and planning between departments is coordinated efficiently, introducing this concept to a company with the engine power like ASI can be quite seamless. Still, the future will hold changes in regulations, and I am sure we will adapt with them.
SDM: What is the upkeep for a security monitoring drone?
Braden: Visual inspections at every single start and end of a flight; operator licensing and valid certifications; education; drone and non-drone component tests, such as two-way voice systems, battery packs, spare battery packs, charging stations, and camera capabilities — HD, thermal imaging, etc. There is also controller maintenance and cleaning — let’s not forget cleaning...
SDM: What are some of the greatest benefits of using drones in this capacity?
Braden: Coverage! We can cover so much area, and along those lines we can record the data and provide tangible evidence should the situation arise.
SDM: Any other lessons learned from the process, or insights you would share with a company looking to employ drones?
Braden: Spend some time with your team and really think about not only which clients might benefit from drone solutions, but expand out of that usual reach of customers and show your customers what a drone can do to provide a wider complementary security and observation solution to their specific needs. Think about it: Drones can see a larger area at one time from above and record that data; they can announce communications, information or warnings; they can deliver emergency medical supplies; and they can find lost property — people even. Training is No. 1.