The Drone Technology Revolution – Is the Private Security Industry Ready? by Chris Flannagan

The emergence of drone technology can hardly be ignored in today’s rapidly developing technological era, and whilst many industries are harnessing the benefits of drone technology. Can the same be said about the Private Security Industry?

This article aims to answer this question by addressing several key points:

  1. What is the projected value of the drone industry on the UK economy, and what percentage of that is expected to come from private security?
  2. In what sectors, similar to private security, has drone technology been successfully implemented into – and what benefits has this had?
  3. To fly drone’s commercially, and operate them in accordance with the Security Industry Authority, what are the legal requirements?
  4. What problem does drone technology solve in the private security industry?
  5. The negatives and positives of having your own in-house drone team compared to outsourcing to a specialist drone security company.

There are many words and abbreviations to describe drone technology, such as UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), however, for this article the term ‘drone’ will be used to encompass all these different words and abbreviations.

Within the next ten years (by 2030) the UK drone industry’s net impact on the UK economy is an estimated £42 billion, the net saving for companies that have implemented drone technology into their organisation is an estimated £16 billion!

The private security industry use of drones however is only expected to contribute £1.3 billion to that total figure of £42 billion, despite the private security industry yearly growth of 11.1%.

In practical figures of how many commercial drones will be in operation within the private security industry by 2030, it is estimated there will only be 2,514 by 2030. This is despite the expected number of commercial drones in operation by 2030 estimated to be 76,233, meaning the number of commercial drones in operation within the private security industry will only be 3.3.% of this total figure. With these figures demonstrating a slow uptake of drone technology into the private security industry, the question is not why – but how can this be changed? To do this, identifying other industries and organisations that have taken the step into the unknown with drone technologies, is the private security industry best solution for changing the future.

The first organisation to look at that could be considered on par with the private security industry need for drone technology, is the Police.

Essex Police Drone Unit was established in 2018, by 2019 they saw a 100% growth demand for their services. These drone deployments where mostly reactive situational incidents, that were happening now where there was an immediate risk to life or as a result of a crime in progress. In addition to the reactive situations, Essex Police Drone Unit was also used for planned events and major/adverse incidents.

Surrey and Sussex Police Force use of drones has grown to match demand, and now operate 24 hours a day 365 days of the year, using commercial drones to support operations similar to Essex Police – but also in support of Fire and Rescue Services to provide situational awareness to Ground Commanders.

When you look at this snapshot of two Police forces growth and demand for drone technology, based on how drone technology protects their officers; prevents crime; aids the planning and

implementation of safety plans for events; and can provide immediate aerial situational awareness. These situations are no different to the situations faced within the private security industry – why then should the industry wait or delay the implementation of drone technology?

This development and growth is not limited to the Police. Lowland Search and Rescue organisation has also seen a 100% increase in demand for their drone services, including anti-terrorism security checks; search for missing and vulnerable persons; and aerial protection for ground resources. With a leading voluntary organisation providing services, similar to the demands of the private security industry, what is the private security industry waiting for?

There are many makes of drone used within the Police and Lowland Search & Rescue. One popular manufacturer is DJI. DJI has reported that the use of drones within these industries in three years, saw a 26% increase in use where lives have directly been saved.

To fly drones commercially in the UK, companies must as a minimum, hold a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO), which includes holding an Operations Manual which must be

submitted yearly to the Civil Aviation Authority for approval. This Operations Manual must reflect the up to date Air Navigation Orders and Civil Aviation Publications (in place at the time and date of your Operations Manual); your company’s safety policies for commercial drone use; how your organisation is structured to deliver commercial drone services; and how your commercial drone operations will be delivered. Your dedicated person in your organisation who has written your Operations Manual (and who will be your Accountable Manager), must also take a theoretical exam which covers: aviation knowledge and theory; safe airmanship; airspace and aviation law; and the application of good flying practice. On passing your theoretical exam, a practical exam must also be completed where ground and air safety; and safe handling of the drone; must be demonstrated.

Adding drone pilots to your organisation (either recruited externally or trained from within your

company), will need to take (or hold) a National Qualified Entity (NQE) or a Recognised Assessment

Entity (RAE) approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

As of December 2020 the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO), is being replaced with a new standard from the Civil Aviation Authority – General Visual Conditions (GVC). The GVC standard is similar in principle to the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO), however, there is an addition of five different elements (C0, C1, C2, C3 and C4) which all relate to different operating environments and are designed to raise safety standards.

If your company already holds a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO), as long as that

permission does not expire, you do not need to change to a GVC (or additional categories if needed). However, if your company allows your Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) to lapse, you will lose your ability to fly drone’ legally and will need to start from the beginning again, and train for a General Visual Conditions (GVC).

Obtaining permission for your company to fly drones commercially is half the journey to your company delivering drone security solutions, the second half is your duty to fulfil the requirements of the Security Industry Authority (SIA).

The Security Industry Authority (SIA) stipulates that the camera fitted to the drone comes under the remit of the Public Space Surveillance (CCTV) Licence. The only exception to this is if the camera fitted to the drone is only used by the Drone Pilot for safe flight. However, can your company confidently evidence that your security personnel are only using the camera on the drone for safe flight? If your company can’t evidence this, then your company could potentially face financial penalties from the Security Industry Authority (SIA) for carrying out a ‘Licensable Activity’.

The problems that can be resolved by implementing drone technology into the private security industry, and in particular your company, are only limited by self-doubt about the efficacy of drone technology. The key role that drone technology can achieve in your organisation, is reducing risk to your security personnel. A recent report by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) evidenced 96% of personnel they interviewed had been assaulted, the impact this has on companies can be significant. From initial time off to recover from injuries, to ongoing physical and mental issues, to high attrition rates from staff unable to return to the front line.

Whether it is a protest, a festival, an isolated high-value site, or a dark abandoned industrial estate, deploying security personnel into these environments can be exceptionally high risk. However with drone technology, you do not have to put your security personnel at risk, whether your company utilizes drones with thermal imaging, high-resolution cameras, or zoom camera capability – your staff can be protected.

Time is crucial in security. Drone technology can be deployed to conduct threat assessments, often in half the time of conventional methods. These threat assessments may as apart of a planned event or as part of reactive counter-terrorism operations. How quickly and effectively can you patrol an area? In a recent test case, a 288-acre location was patrolled by drone, checking all three vehicle access points were secure, all persons were clear from the location, and all equipment and vehicles were secure – this was completed in just over 30 minutes.

In a recent report from the Security Industry Authority, Licenced Security Personnel were described as the eyes and ears on the ground in the fight against crime. With drone technology, Licenced Security Personnel can be the eyes in the air AND on the ground.

The benefits of using drone technology in security are immeasurable, however for some companies, the training and retention of qualified staff; additional aviation insurance costs; equipment procurement, management, and maintenance; and maintaining your Drone Pilot competencies; puts it out of reach for many organisations.

Where these challenges can be overcome, the ability for companies to have drone capability in – house, can save time whilst reducing risk.

Whether your company has a designated drone unit that responds to incidents or alarm activations, drone equipment carried in patrol vehicles, or as a specialist role to take your company’s abilities beyond those of your competitors – drone technology will secure your company’ future capabilities.

The predicted figures and uptake of drone technology within the private security industry, in the next ten years, are significantly lower when compared to other industries. The causes for this could be financial, trepidation about changing traditional security methods, or staffing constraints – whatever they are, the benefits of drone technology in security can’t be ignored. This situation has seen the development of companies specialising in drone security solutions, allowing companies to outsource their drone security needs to companies, who have staff that are trained to the standard set by the Civil Aviation Authority; are Security Industry Licenced; have both the required drone equipment and systems in place to manage and maintain it; the required ground safety equipment; specialist aviation insurance in place; and risk assessments, policies, and procedures in place to enable them to fulfil their legal obligations with both the Security Industry Authority and Civil Aviation Authority.

Telephone: 01380 609 383



Chris Flannagan

Chris’ background with the British Army and UK Police, means his knowledge of security and criminal behaviour is outstanding. He is the founder and Director of ‘TLP Ltd – Drone Security Specialists’, providing: drone security support services – from drone deployments to consultation and planning; drone security threat assessments; and counter-drone defence mapping. TLP is based in Wiltshire but operates across the UK, wherever and whenever their clients need them