News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 10, 2014

Indiana’s director of homeland security sees unmanned systems’ potential

TERRE HAUTE — Integrating unmanned flight systems into use for domestic surveillance can provide first responders with key information in responding to fires, earthquakes and man-made disasters, said John Hill, director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Hill on Thursday gave introductory remarks for a domestic operations expo by Indiana State University’s aviation technology department and the Indiana National Guard’s 181st intelligence Wing at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.

The two-day invitation-only expo is aimed at focusing on the importance of coordinating local and state assets to civilian disasters.

Professor Richard Baker, director of ISU’s Center for Unmanned Systems and Human Capital Development, said the expo is designed to bring civilian and military organizations together, as each “has some technology, or equipment or capability that can help in an area of domestic response for disasters, either man-made or natural.”

“Each of the pieces of equipment is expensive and not every unit can afford, in their budget, to buy everything. The idea is for groups to walk around and see what the other group has and understand their capability,” Baker said.

Displays included unmanned aircraft; communication equipment and heat-sensing equipment for searches’ CERFP, a group that responds to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosives; a decontamination unit; a medical unit and a search and extraction unit that can provide mortuary capabilities.

“When something happens, we can leverage that capability by knowing who to call,” Baker said. When a disaster occurs, unmanned systems may not be matched for that specific task “because no one knew who to call,” Baker said.

“When the unmanned system gets there, it is too heavy or it is too tall or they want something that will fly and it is in an area that still has a storm. The idea is how ... we find the right technology and the right people to respond to those disasters in the future,” Baker said.

“While this is sometimes done at the national level, this is the first time anyone has done this locally and in Indiana,” Baker said of the expo.

Hill, after his introduction, said the 181st Intelligence Wing has done “a wonderful job” of integrating with “local emergency managers.”

Hill understands much about aviation. He is a pilot and flew his personal plane to the expo Thursday.

The biggest obstacle to using unmanned systems in a domestic response, Hill said in his introduction, is regulations that have not yet been established by the Federal Aviation Administration, Hill said.

Hill said he hopes the FAA will grant controlled operating areas, or COA, for unmanned flights in disasters. “Then the FAA would set up an area to alert pilots to avoid that area while they are doing their surveillance,” Hill said.

Hill said unmanned systems can also work on the ground, pointing to systems the state obtained in 2005 through homeland security grants to deal with explosive ordnance devices.

Unmanned systems can help fighters battle wildfires, providing escape routes, and can help law enforcement, such as in hostage situations.

“We have to show the value that these devices bring to help us do our jobs better and not encroach on the privacy of individuals,” Hill said.

The public is accepting of unmanned systems when informed about their use, he said. A recent survey “showed that 57 percent of the general public supports the use of unmanned systems,” Hill said. “Also, 88 percent of the general public support the use in search and rescue operations, and 67 percent support it in homeland security missions.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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