Is the current preoccupation with flying drones into UK prisons based on anything other than hype? We don’t think so, and what’s more, anyone who flies these things professionally or for fun will tell you that transporting large loads into prisons discreetly is way beyond the average camera drone, and certainly not worthwhile from a ‘regular smuggling’ point of view. They simply can’t carry a payload of more than a few grams and landing or taking off without being able to see what you are doing is the short route to disaster. They are also usually covered in flashing lights, so darkness isn’t going to be much help unless you remove them. It’s hard to speculate on the odds of successfully flying around in the dark without camera or lights, but they must be slim. All in all a poor business model.
We’ve been out on location and once again found ourselves required to defend the existence of drones to members of the public who appear to believe that they are coming over the walls in swarms, heavily laden with everything from drugs to automatic weapons. It is, of course, all nonsense. First some genuine facts and figures:
- USA Today has reported that “Drones have been used at least a dozen times in the past five years to fly contraband into federal prisons”, hardly the end of civilisation as we know it!
- In 2015, a drone-delivered drug package caused a fight in an Ohio prison. In on other incident in that year, two people were arrested for trying to smuggle contraband using a drone into a US prison. Obviously an epidemic out of control.
- John Podmore, former head of HM Prisons Anti Corruption Unit, has said in BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he thinks “The number of (drone-related) incidents last year was 33”.
- He also said whilst there was an issue with contraband in prisons, spending £3m on a government ‘initiative’ targeting drones was in his opinion a “PR stunt”.
His further remarks are even more illuminating and go some way towards putting this issue into some form of adult perspective.
“I have seen no evidence that there is a real problem with drones…..There are some 10,000 mobile phones found every year in prisons. My question to the Prison Service would be, how many of those were found hanging from drones?”
Much has been made by the government of spending £3m on a security initiative to stamp out the use of drones to smuggle drugs, phones and weapons into prisons, but many critics believe they are simply seizing a heaven-sent opportunity to divert attention from the existing massive problems of corruption in the UK’s prisons. Even Mike Rolfe, national chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association agrees that “the service should be looking at the wider issue of contraband smuggling, including the main route [of] staff corruption”.
He also agreed, apparently, that the prison service publicity campaign was just an attempt to distract people from “the real issue [of] gaols in complete chaos, in a crisis and flooded with drugs, mobile phones and weapons”.
In other words, the drone problem is only a very small part of what else is going wrong in our prisons, but being massively exaggerated to mask the real problems, and gobbled up by the more luddite elements of the general public who don’t see themselves collecting any benefit from this amazing new technology.
Now at beda:photo we don’t get involved in politics ( they’re all as bad as each other, as far as we’re concerned) but being a company that flies drones for a living (it’s dark and lonely work, but someone has to do it) we are in a better position than most to point out that it’s time for the media to calm down and stop winding up the general public over what is still only a tiny number of drone-related incidents, and nothing compared to what else you can walk or drive into these days.
The world needs drones
The benefits of drone technology are becoming increasingly obvious, particularly in reducing risk and cost in high level survey and inspection and even UK police forces are now training officers to operate surveillance drones on a local level, so the smart money at least realises they are not potential weapons of mass destruction, but actually have enormous potential for good.
All this, of course, is not to say that irresponsible drone flyers shouldn’t be tracked down and taken to task, but the reality is that they are much less of a real danger than drunk drivers, sleeping truckers, mobile phones or even flying geese! Yes that’s right, if you want some really scary statistics, take a look at the CAA figures for actual (not potential as in all drone statistics) aircraft collisions with flying birds.
More than 2,200 reports of actual collisions with flying birds were recorded last year by the UK Civil Aviation Authority – almost twice the 1,299 ‘bird strikes’ that were recorded in 2007.
The figures show that around three ‘significant’ collisions take place in Britain every week, and they are really happening, not just a ‘potential disaster’ which is the constant refrain from the anti-drone lobby when some irresponsible person flies his drone too close to an airport.
When you consider that an average Canada goose can tip the scales at anywhere between 3.2kg and 6.5kg compared to a flimsy DJI Phantom which weighs in at around 1.3kg, the difference becomes obvious.
The important point here though, is that no one is calling for birds to be exterminated because of the ‘potential’ danger they present. Instead, modern aircraft are designed to withstand such impacts and survive, which they usually do.
At beda:photo we firmly believe that education is key to a mature public understanding and acceptance of aerial photography and video filming, particularly as it has become obvious to us in conversations with the general public that they aren’t really aware of the distinction between professional flyers and hobbyists. Unfortunately many people seem to see UAV pilots as mostly a bunch of airborne hoodies with the usual dismissive attitude to boring stuff like safety and privacy and we have come to the conclusion that the ‘drone’ community needs to work harder on its public image. Joining in the general clamour and public condemnation of irresponsible flyers who zoom around in the local park to impress the kids may seem like a good idea to some, but in reality all it’s doing is increasing the perception of drones as just the latest nasty intrusive fad, by increasing the amount of exposure these incidents receive.
When you join in the Twitter/Facebook ranting about some idiot who has been annoying someone with his drone it’s worth remembering that all people remember is how many tweets/posts were in agreement, not how many of them were professional flyers seeking to distance themselves from such stupidity.
For some legal aerial photography or video, go to bedaphoto.com
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39616399