Drones and New Challenges

[caption id="attachment_473" align="alignright" width="300"]The Tennessee Volunteers football team uses a drone in an April 2013 practice to get better camera angles (Source: Evan Woodbery). The Tennessee Volunteers football team uses a drone in an April 2013 practice to get better camera angles (Source: Evan Woodbery).[/caption]

Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), have gained wide appeal among the public and various entities. They are typically used to capture some sort of aerial photography, but they are also used in other areas such as bridge inspections, crop nurturing, damage surveying, and search and rescue operations.


However, with the emergence of new technologies also comes challenges on the safety of drone usage. For example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is monitoring drone usage, as they could potentially be used in terrorist attacks in the most extreme cases. On August 3, 2015, the department issued a warning for terrorists using drones, stating that over the past three-and-a-half-years, 218 terrorist-related incidents that have been linked to drones have been reported, according to WHDH-TV, the NBC affiliate in Boston, Mass. In 2012, a Massachusetts man was sentenced to 17 years for plotting to attach bombs to a drone and attack the U.S. Capitol Building and Pentagon in Washington, D.C.


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating an 18-year-old college student from Connecticut for releasing a video of a discharging semi-automatic handgun attached to a drone.


In addition, drones could also be used for smuggling drugs, cyber attacks, spying, and can disrupt air traffic.


State Surveillance Laws


Another concern on the usage of drones involves privacy and surveillance. To protect its citizens from being spied on, stalked, and identity theft, the State of Florida has addressed this by adding another policy to its state surveillance law. According to Rep. Larry Metz (R-Yalaha), the bill "prohibits a person or state agency or political subdivision from using a drone to record an image on privately owned property, or the owner, tenant or occupant of such property with intent to surveil without their permission."


In August 2014, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley formed the Alabama Drone Task Force to study and propose regulations on the use of drones in Alabama. However, due to a delay in FAA regulations, as well as the complexity of the issue, the regulation decision was delayed indefinitely.


In 2014, a total of ten states (Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin) enacted drone laws, while 35 considered legislation, according to a report from The University of North Carolina.


New Policies on Drone Use in Athletics


Intercollegiate and Professional Sports


As the MLB postseason, as well as the college football and NFL regular seasons, approach, large crowds will be flocking to college campuses and stadiums nationwide to see their teams in action. Despite drones being banned by the FAA around sporting events, the large-scale sporting events are the prime targets for terrorists or activists to potentially wreak havoc.


Also, when flying drones over a large number of people, a malfunction or mistake could cause a drone to land onto a number of people and cause panic, event disruption, and even injury. On June 26, 2014, a man flew a drone into PNC Park in Pittsburgh during a game between the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates from the riverwalk outside the stadium. In August of 2014, a University of Texas student flew a drone over Darrell K. Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium (capacity: 100,119) during the Longhorns' first home game of the football season, and landed it on a street adjacent to the stadium. According to a report from KXAN-TV, the NBC affiliate in Austin, Texas, University of Texas Police said a second drone was also in use near the stadium by another group of people. One day later, a freelance videographer flew a UAV into Neyland Stadium during the Tennessee Volunteers home opener with 102,000 fans in attendance; the videographer was not criminally charged, but his media credentials were revoked by the school's athletic department. On October 11, 2014, a white quadcopter flew into Camp Randall Stadium (capacity: 80,000) at The University of Wisconsin over the student section during a game vs. Illinois


In response, the FAA revised the regulations regarding aircraft, saying that all aircraft and parachute operations cannot be flown within three nautical miles from and 30,000 feet above ground level over a stadium with a capacity of over 30,000 while a MLB, NFL, or NCAA Division I football event is occurring.


High School Athletics


Despite the fact that the FAA law does not pertain to high schools, several states have taken similar measures on the use of drones during high school athletic events. High school athletic associations in AlabamaNorth Carolina, Kentucky, among others, have banned all drones from flying over athletic fields during games. Minnesota and Michigan have also banned drones from athletic events, but only in the postseason. Several high school football teams across the country have been using drones during practices and games to improve performance. The New Mexico Athletic Association has proposed a policy to ban the use of drones during games and events, similar to North Carolina. 


Drone Policies at Universities 


Stadiums and state high school athletic associations are not the only entities that have taken security measures against drones. At The University of Alabama, to fly a drone, one must receive a grounds permit from the University. One is also prohibited from flying the drone over any of the athletics facilities, unless authorized by the University. Flyers are also not allowed to monitor or record places where reasonable privacy is expected, as well as residential hallways and lounges, daycare facilities, or medical facilities. Drones must be flown in an extremely careful manner to ensure the safety of those on campus. To view more of The University of Alabama's policies against drones, CLICK HERE.


However, some universities, like Auburn University, have began offering courses and undergraduate assistantships to conduct more research on UAVs. Some schools, like Troy University, have even launched new minors in drones.


Elementary/Secondary Schools


Drone usage has not technically been banned at elementary and secondary schools. In fact, drones are being utilized during classes at some schools for educational purposes.  Schools are trying to balance the challenge of educating and adopting these new technologies while safeguarding their schools and events from potential hazards and privacy issues drones could create. One solution to this is to implement a permitting policy similar to The University of Alabama, where flyers must receive permission and a permit through the school to operate a drone on campus. Administrators would then have control over who is using the drones and how they are being used, minimizing potential safety hazards.