The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has commenced trials for drones capable of broadcasting public safety alerts, particularly in times of emergencies. This initiative came into the Spotlight on a rain-drenched Sunday, when New York's emergency notification system flagged a test of “remote-piloted public messaging capabilities” on Twitter.
These drones are equipped to transmit critical announcements during disasters or emergencies, a tool that could be particularly useful in neighborhoods prone to weather extremes like flooding. The tests occurred at Hook Creek Park in Queens, but NYPD remains tight-lipped about the results.
However, the use of the term “remote audio transmitters” instead of “drones” might not be accidental. The technology's deployment could reportedly be at odds with the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act. This law mandates NYPD to involve the public and publish an impact statement, with a notice period of 90 days, before implementing new surveillance technologies.
A loophole in the law might offer NYPD some wriggle room, allowing immediate use of new devices by designating them as “enhancements” under existing tech policies like “Situational Awareness Cameras” and “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).” But, it isn't clear whether the Sunday trial features new technology or an upgrade to NYPD's current drone fleet.
An earlier incident involving the NYPD's deployment of Digidog, a robot police “dog,” without the usual 90-day delay, was justified through this loophole. The NYPD's Deputy Commissioner of Public Information (DCPI) stated that Digidog was simply an enhancement to the existing “situational awareness cameras and GPS technologies.”
The official @NYPDnews account tweeted about plans to use these drones for broadcasting crucial information during power or telecom outages. But not everyone's convinced. Albert Fox Cahn, Executive Director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, voiced concerns about the drone's effectiveness in alerting New Yorkers compared to push notifications.
Weather-related emergencies & natural disasters can potentially cause havoc to our critical infrastructure. In the event of a power or telecom failure, the NYPD & the @nycemergencymgt will deploy drones to convey critical information & keep you connected with up-to-date info.NYPD News
Around the globe, drones have already been used for public safety in cities like Shanghai, China, and Madrid, Spain, during the COVID-19 pandemic. With health messages broadcasting from drone speakers and even robotic dogs roaming the streets to relay health announcements, the future of emergency responses is rapidly changing.
Photo courtesy of NYPD.
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