CASE STUDY: Texas Police Use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Help Provide Security for Spring Breakers


SUMMARY: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) can be an effective tool for monitoring large crowds and events. While drones (sUAS's) are a popular choice and effective at transiting large distances at high speeds, SmartBalloons may represent a better option for providing persistent low altitude surveillance over a fixed target. Ultimately, the two systems can be used in concert to provide effective security.

PROBLEM: South Padre Island, Texas is a popular destination for college students who are on Spring Break. The barrier island town has less than 3,000 permanent residents, yet swells to over 75,000 people when the spring breakers arrive. This places a significant strain on law enforcement resources, who arrested 270 people for public intoxication in March 2015. The combined number of public intoxication arrests over the other 11 months of was 294.

SOLUTION: The South Padre Island Police Department (SPIPD) purchased two Yuneec Typhoon Q500 drones with camera systems. The batteries of each unit allow for 25 minutes of flight time. SPIPD viewed the drones as a viable option for their community which could not afford a helicopter. The plan for the drones was to fly 250 feet above the spring break crowds to conduct security and surveillance. “It gives us a bird’s-eye view that we wouldn’t have before,” South Padre Island town spokesman Gary Ainsworth told the Washington Post. “If you have an incident in a large crowd and you’re sending two officers into the middle of it, they’re vastly outnumbered, and that’s before they have any idea of what’s going on…In the event a drunk college student decides he wants to run, we could use a drone to follow him instead of sending an officer to climb on the roof.”

ALTERNATE SOLUTION: ALTA Tactical SmartBalloon systems by Florida-based Altametry, Inc. offer a safer, longer duration solution for conducting low altitude persistent surveillance missions over a fixed target area. The tethered ALTA SmartBalloons provide a comparable quality video feed and can stay aloft for several hours (even days) to provide continuous surveillance without the potential gaps in coverage that drones may cause when they need to land to replace batteries. Additionally, the SmartBalloon is a safer UAV system for use over large crowds. In the event of a malfunction, a drone may plummet into the crowd. The SmartBalloon has dual balloon envelopes which will allow the device to slowly decend in the event of a malfunction. The SmartBalloons can operate in all types of airspace without the need for an FAA waiver or COA. The ALTA SmartBalloon system also records audio which can be used to detect various sounds and can be used for evidence gathering. Finally, while drones are perceived as noisy and intrusive by many people, balloons are generally perceived as docile and friendly which make them a more crowd-receptive tool for conducting event monitoring and surveillance. Together, SmartBalloons and drones can provide an effective public safety aviation package for effective crowd monitoring,

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