DroneSense Blog

Case Study: Covering the George Floyd Protests & Entombment with sUAS

Guest post by Brandon Carr, City of Pearland sUAS Team

On May 25th, 2020 Minneapolis Police Officers arrested George Floyd for purchasing cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. During the course of the arrest George Floyd died in custody. This incident resulted in massive protests, riots, and caused Police agencies across the globe to reevaluate their policies and training. According to Wikipedia, the protests spread to over 2,000 cities and towns in all 50 states as well as in over 60 other countries. Texas was no stranger to these protests. Protests occurred Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, with Austin being the hardest hit with extended protests. As these protests became more common and closer to agencies utilizing drones for public safety applications, agencies across the nation turned to DroneSense to assist them in providing secure live streaming and situational awareness. The City of Pearland Police sUAS team not only responded to mutual aid requests from neighboring agencies due to protests, but also coordinated their own response for George Floyd’s entombment.

The Protests

The City of Pearland Police Department’s sUAS team assisted agencies in Houston to help provide overwatch for these protests. The team deployed DJI M210V2 with the Z30 and XT2 camera, Mavic 2 Enterprise Zoom, and Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual systems. Pearland Police sUAS team then provided a general user account to the requesting agency to provide them with secured live streaming capabilities of all our systems being used for the response. The incident commanders then used those streams to make more informed and safer decisions to safely manage the protests. This ensured both the protesters and public safety personnel remained safe throughout the event. Throughout the event the sUAS feeds were used to locate agitators in the crowds, locate participants that suffered injuries or heat exhaustion, and to help coordinate public safety personnel.

DroneSense software during the protests Drone footage from protests

The Entombment

A few days after the protests in Houston, Pearland Police Department was notified that George Floyd would be entombed in the City of Pearland. Just days prior the City of Houston had a Protest that had an estimated 60,000 people in attendance. After coordinating with federal partners, the City of Pearland requested and was granted a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) to ensure the entombment was respectful to the family and safe for all participants. The City of Pearland was granted the TFR a few days later. To prepare for the entombment, the Pearland Police Department and other participating supporting agencies developed an air operations plan and coordinated airspace to allow for multiple sUAS operations at the same time and to safely fly with manned aircraft. The Pearland Police Department used DroneSense and Pix4D to map all of the area of operations to ensure no nefarious packages or items were placed prior to the event.

Drone footage from entombment

The day of the entombment Pearland Police Department and all supporting agencies prepared to ensure a safe and respectful entombment. All drone operations were conducted using DroneSense, where all drone feeds, locations, and pilot information where streamed into the Emergency Operations Center for enhanced situational awareness. All drone teams also were able to have DroneSense running on their laptops, so they could also see where all the other drone teams were and what their drones were able to see.

What We Learned

The Pearland Police Department sUAS team learned many valuable lessons throughout the protests and entombment.  

Three P’s
Proper Prior Planning ensured a successful deployment for all teams involved. Involvement in the planning stages throughout all phases of the events guaranteed everyone knew what their roles were and ensured that all necessary authorizations were obtained to fly in both the Class B airspace to the surface and the TFR. This also provided adequate airspace deconfliction. Throughout the event there were multiple sUAS and manned aircraft operating in the area. Without integration into all planning phases of the events the sUAS team would have been scrambling to obtain the authorizations to fly, dealing with logistical issues with power and data transmission, and would have had significant airspace deconfliction issues. 

Texas Summer Heat
The high for June 9th, 2020 in Houston, TX was 95 degrees with a heat index of 109 degrees. To mitigate RF interference a sUAS team was stationed on the roof of the Pearland Police Department from 0900-1800. To try and curb heat exhaustion the team had to make sure they were hydrated frequently covered by canopies to help shelter from the heat.

The heat also caused issues with the systems. Nine of the Mavic batteries swelled that day during flight due to operating well outside of its operational temperature range. Additionally, there were also issues with the iPads processing data efficiently due to the heat. To combat this issue, the teams brought up multiple fans and extension cables to help keep everything cooler.  The teams also recognized that the bulk of the tasking shifted from attempting to locate agitators in the crowds to locating participants that were showing symptoms of heat exhaustion. During the event, the teams located two participants who needed immediate medical assistance due to heat exhaustion.

Entombment from a command center