Home > Emergency Response, UAVs > Off Mission – Red Cross and UPS Testing Surveillance Drone at Disasters

Off Mission – Red Cross and UPS Testing Surveillance Drone at Disasters

The American Red Cross, working with UPS, is testing a tethered CyPhy Works UAV in the wake of Harvey. This runs counter to their fundamental mission and principles.

The announcement states:

“The pilot program utilizes CyPhy Works’ Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) platform. In this test the platform will provide constant power to a drone flying stationary at 400ft through the use of a tether. Since the drone is tied to the ground, constant power can be provided from a ground-based generator thus providing uninterrupted surveillance for days or weeks at a time.” It “… would be able to assess the impact of a disaster to best direct relief efforts and later to accelerate insurance payout.”

This raises all sorts of questions, such as:

  • Who will service the generator during a disaster to keep it aloft for weeks at a time?
  • How will they manage the terabytes of imagery?
  • Can’t this mission be addressed with a single 30 minute UAV flight that then is available for other missions?

But the most important one is:

Why does anyone other than law enforcement need “Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance” that can remain aloft for weeks at a disaster?

Quoting a friend of mine, ” this is really really bad optics for any ostensibly aid-based organization.” It is a classic, and sometimes fatal, error for aid organizations as we’ve painfully learned over the years.

One of the Fundamental Principles of The Red Cross is:


In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Red Cross may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.

Deploying persistent surveillance assets over an area where the population is already traumatized runs counter to the Red Cross’ goal of earning confidence and to “… to prevent and alleviate human suffering.”

It also negatively affects all other humanitarian aid, disaster response, and damage assessment efforts. If one “official” drone is behaving in a manner that causes the public to suspect the intentions of the operator then all drones are considered equally suspect. ARC and UPS are putting all legitimate UAV disaster response operations at risk.

I wonder if the deployment was fully vetted by the Red Cross legal and public affairs teams prior to launching.



Categories: Emergency Response, UAVs
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