Unmanned Aircraft Systems

UAS Header.png

The Arlington County Fire Department, Police Department, Sheriff's Office and Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management's joint public safety Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, commonly referred to as drones, is designed to enhance the County’s ability to respond to emergency incidents through the deployment of remotely operated aircrafts. The UAS Program is only utilized for specific public safety missions and is operated only by trained and authorized personnel in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. 

About the UAS Program 

UAS’s provide enhanced operational capability, safety, and situational awareness for first responders in support of public safety. They can operate in many types of environments (natural or manmade), or other critical incidents which might be hazardous to the safety of first responders or others. 

Virginia Code § 19.2-60.1 and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations permit the use of UAS in outdoor environments in Arlington County, even with the presence of the Reagan National Airport and military facilities. Prior to beginning an outdoor UAS flight in Arlington County, the FAA would conduct a comprehensive operational and technical review of the UAS Program to ensure it can operate safely with other airspace users. All UAS flights will be recorded, and the data uploaded and stored in accordance with Arlington County Police Department Manual Directive 517.08 Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS).

What the UAS Program DOES

Avata #2.jpg The UAS program is designed to support a variety of government mission types, including: 

  • Search and rescue 
  • Pre- and post-disaster damage assessments 
  • Crash and crime scene reconstruction 
  • Fire/emergency incident management 
  • Special event situation awareness 
  • Hazardous materials response 
  • Technical rescues 

 

What the UAS Program DOES NOT Do

Drone.PNGThe UAS program will not be used to: 
  • Conduct random surveillance activities 
  • Target a person based solely on individual characteristics, such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, gender, religion, or disability 
  • Harass, intimidate, or discriminate against any individual or group 
  • Conduct personal business or any other unauthorized use 
  • Support any facial or license plate recognition technology 
  • Carry or deploy any types of weapons 
  • Monitor traffic for the purpose of issuing traffic citations 
  • Intercept and collect WiFi data 

 

Missions

 

Policy Development

Prior to implementation, the UAS program sought community feedback on draft policies to ensure it was reflective of the Arlington Community’s values, interests, and concerns. The program strives to provide the level of service that is not only expected but reflective of this community. All program members will review and acknowledge receipt of their agency's final policy and receive training regarding the use of UAS.

Read the final policies:

The UAS program appreciates all who took the time to read, review, and provide feedback on the draft policies. Based on the community feedback, the following changes were made to the policy:

  • Added a more specific list of cases where UAS may be used to enhance public safety.
  • Added a more specific list of cases where the use of UAS is prohibited.
  • Added a requirement to publish a publicly available monthly report of the UAS program.
  • Updated the contents of the publicly available annual report of the UAS program.

Additionally, three main themes were identified in the community feedback: privacy, safety and program oversight. The UAS program takes each of these themes seriously and is providing additional information on procedural and legislative restrictions on the program to ensure community trust.

Privacy

  • Enhancing public safety while balancing community privacy is an essential feature of the UAS program.
  • In accordance with Virginia Code Section 19.2-60.1, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant prior to UAS deployment unless an exigent circumstance exists, such as:
    • In response to an Amber Alert or Blue Alert 
    • At the scene of a traffic crash
    • To alleviate an immediate danger to any person
    • To survey the primary residence of a person wanted for a felony offense 
    • To locate a fleeing suspect while law enforcement remains in fresh pursuit 
  • The UAS program will not be used to:
    • Conduct random surveillance activities
    • Target a person based solely on individual characteristics, such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, gender, religion, or disability 
    • Harass, intimidate, or discriminate against any individual or group
    • Conduct personal business or any other unauthorized use
    • Support any facial or license plate recognition technology
    • Monitor traffic for the purpose of issuing traffic citations
    • Intercept and collect WiFi data
  • Additionally, Virginia Code prohibits the weaponization of UAS'
  • All digital evidence is subject to monitoring and shall be handled in accordance with police department policy and in accordance with the applicable Library of Virginia retention schedule.

Safety

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations permit the use of UAS in outdoor environments in Arlington County, even with the presence of the Reagan National Airport and military facilities. Prior to beginning an outdoor UAS flight in Arlington County, the FAA would conduct a comprehensive operational and technical review of the UAS Program to ensure it can operate safely with other airspace users.
  • The spinning propellers on a UAS do generate noise, but at a significantly lower amount than airplanes and helicopters. A typical UAS generates 70-80 decibels of sound, which is roughly equivalent to a washing machine. There are no limits set by the FAA regarding noise or flight time, though both of those concerns are minimized by the small size and limited battery capacity of most UAS platforms.  

Program Oversight

  • All UAS missions must be approved by the UAS Program Manager and will be overseen by a supervisor.
  • Public notification will be made for all pre-planned UAS deployments, such as special events, unless such notification would jeopardize personnel safety and/or a criminal investigation.
  • The UAS program website will maintain a running list of all UAS deployments, including the date, location, agency, and reason for the deployment. Additionally, the UAS program will produce a publicly disseminated annual report detailing:
    • The number and types of deployments during the past calendar year
    • The training for UAS Program members during the past calendar year
    • An audit of any data collected during UAS deployments during the past calendar year
    • Costs incurred by the UAS Program during the past calendar year
    • An assessment of the general capabilities and performance of the UAS Program during the past calendar year 
  • The UAS Program is committed to holding itself accountable to the highest standard of public service and will be subject to monthly audits, which will include:
    • An evaluation of the effectiveness of a UAS during a deployment
    • Any safety or equipment concerns
    • Any use of an UAS in violation of policy or law, if applicable
    • A review of digital evidence to ensure only authorized users are accessing the data and for legitimate purposes
  • Any requests for UAS data or video recordings will be processed under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
  • Any complaint arising from the use of UAS shall be handled in accordance with the operating agency’s protocols for internal investigations.

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

 

What is the difference between UAS, UAV, and Drone?

A UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle, while an unmanned aerial system (UAS) refers to the aircraft, the ground control, and the communications units.  The word drone is the most popular synonym for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or unmanned aerial system (UAS). UAV and UAS are common terms, however, the term UAS has emerged as a replacement for UAV and drone.

What types of missions does the UAS program fly?

The UAS program is designed to support a variety of government mission types, including: 

  • Search and rescue 
  • Pre- and post-disaster damage assessments 
  • Crash and crime scene reconstruction 
  • Fire/emergency incident management 
  • Special event crowd monitoring 
  • Hazardous materials responses
  • Technical rescues

What equipment will the UAS Program use?

The program anticipates using the DJI Avata, DJI Mavic 3 and DJI Matrice 30.

How much does the UAS equipment cost?

The initial cost to acquire the necessary equipment and provide introductory training for pilots is estimated at approximately $300,000. Recurring costs are estimated at approximately $100,000 annually. 

How are UAS pilots selected?

Members of the UAS Program will be appointed, with a probationary period following selection. Participating county agencies will determine minimum qualifications within their respective agency, such as: 

  • Length of service 
  • Prior flight experience 
  • Current aviation knowledge and training 
  • History of positive interaction with the community 
  • History of adherence to the agency’s rules and policies 

How are the UAS pilots trained?

Initial training enables program members to obtain their Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC) from the FAA under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107) prior to any operational flight.  RPC topic areas include: 

  • Applicable regulations relating to UAS ratings, limitations, and flight operation 
  • Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting UAS operation 
  • Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on UAS performance 
  • UAS loading and performance Emergency procedures 
  • Crew resource management Radio communication procedures 
  • Determining the performance of UAS 
  • Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol 
  • Aeronautical decision-making and judgment 
  • Airport operations 
  • Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures 
  • Operation at night 

Additional training will be provided by the manufacturer of each UAS. Ongoing training protocols will be based on FAA regulations, NIST guidelines, recommendations from regional partners with established UAS programs, and will require a prescribed number of hours to maintain proficiency. 

Who decides when a UAS can be deployed?

All deployments of UAS will require supervisory approval. However, the UAS pilot is responsible for selecting a deployment method that minimizes the risk of injury to the public, public safety personnel, and suspects, and for subsequently executing that method in a safe and appropriate manner.

Where will the UAS be stored?

UAS will be stored in a climate-controlled, secure, and central location. Only authorized UAS Program members will have access to the equipment.  Additionally, within the storage location, each aircraft will be secured in a protected case with a lock preventing unauthorized access. 

Who is responsible for maintaining the UAS?

UAS manufacturers provide maintenance recommendations and will train UAS Program members on basic maintenance.  UAS Program members would follow these recommendations and would also thoroughly document all maintenance activities for the aircraft. The physical aircraft requires little maintenance unless a collision is experienced. In that event, the UAS pilot would ground the aircraft and return it for maintenance, which is typically covered under a maintenance program.

What Arlington County agencies would be able to fly UAS missions?

The Fire Department, Police Department, Sheriff's Office and Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management would be authorized to fly for approved public safety purposes only. 

Are there any Virginia laws that regulate government UAS flights?

Virginia Code Section 19.2-60.1 prohibits the weaponization of UAS and requires a search warrant be obtained prior to deployment unless an exigent circumstance exists, such as:

  • In response to an Amber Alert or Blue Alert 
  • At the scene of a traffic crash
  • To alleviate an immediate danger to any person 
  • To survey the primary residence of a person wanted for a felony offense 
  • To locate a fleeing suspect while law enforcement remains in hot pursuit 

Additionally, Virginia Code Section 18.2-121.3 prohibits the use of UAS to coerce, intimidate, or harass a person. 

Does the UAS Program have to go through a licensing process with the FAA?

The FAA will only authorize the UAS Program to fly in one of two conditions due to the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) around the United States Capitol: Certificate of Authorization (COA) or Part 107.  The majority of departments in the region with established UAS Programs currently operate under both.  A COA combined with Part 107 is currently how Fairfax County, Prince William County, and the George Mason University Police Department are flying. The Arlington UAS Program will require all program members to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC) from the FAA under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107), along with a COA that will be requested by Arlington County.  

A Certificate of Authorization (COA) is issued by the FAA to a public operator for a specific UAS activity. Prior to issuing a COA, the FAA conducts a comprehensive operational and technical review of the proposed UAS activity. If necessary, provisions or limitations may be imposed as part of the approval to ensure the UAS can operate safely with other airspace users. 

Does the FAA have to provide permission for the UAS Program to fly?

Since the entirety of Arlington County falls within the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) around the United States Capitol, UAS pilots must contact the FAA to obtain their approval prior to any outdoor flight. 

Do the UAS make a lot of noise, like helicopters or airplanes?

The spinning propellers on a UAS do generate noise, but at a significantly lower amount than airplanes and helicopters.  A typical UAS generates 70-80 decibels of sound, which is roughly equivalent to a washing machine.  There are no limits set by the FAA regarding noise or flight time, though both of those concerns are minimized by the small size and limited battery capacity of most UAS platforms.  

How will I know when, where, and why UAS flights are occurring?

The UAS program website will maintain a running list of all deployments of UAS, including the date, location, agency, and reason for the deployment. The UAS program will produce a publicly-disseminated annual report detailing: 

  • The number and types of deployments during the past calendar year 
  • The training for UAS Program members during the past calendar year 
  • An audit of any data collected during UAS deployments during the past calendar year 
  • Costs incurred by the UAS Program during the past calendar year 
  • An assessment of the general capabilities and performance of the UAS Program during the past calendar year 

Program Contact

Questions regarding the UAS program can be emailed to ACPDPolicy@arlingtonva.us.