Westridge Security Ltd. believes it will be the first private security firm in B.C. to commercially fly the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The drones should be ready for service in a few weeks, pending flight permit approval from Transport Canada. They can assist agencies in search and rescues, firefighting and bylaw enforcement, among other applications. Drones are already in operation in B.C. - the RCMP have four.
But outside law enforcement, they're not yet widely used here, although a Vancouver company, North Guardian UAV Services Canada, has been demonstrating the devices for Lower Mainland search-and-rescue teams.
Ridge Meadows Seach and Rescue Team manager Rick Liang said the drones could offer a cost-effective alternative to the use of helicopters and aircraft.
"We may be able to fly them in weather that we wouldn't be able to fly a helicopter in or search in drainages or gullies that it would be tricky to investigate," Liang said. "Most of us in SAR are excited by the thought of it."
Westridge owner John Griffiths stressed they're prohibited from conducting general surveillance.
"The perception is drones are used for spying on people, it's Big Brother," he said. "But it's only used when requested by an agency. We are not allowed by Transport Canada to just fly it over residential areas." Drones aren't permitted to fly or record images or video over public buildings or private residences. The only exceptions are assisting in an emergency scenario if, for example, fire officials request aerial images of a house fire.
Drones can't be flown more than 120 metres from the ground crew. Video feeds and photos are controlled by ground crew and only switched on once the drone is over the target area.
Westridge's two remote-controlled drones are manufactured in the U.S. One is designed to carry 5.5 kilograms of goods, the other to withstand inclement weather. They're equipped with infra-red cameras, navigational lights and loud alarms that beep to alert the public of their presence.
"You are not surprised by them," Griffiths said. "You know they are in the air if we are flying them."
Deputy privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy said the office was working with Westridge to ensure they adhere to B.C. privacy laws.
"Any time an
organization deploys what really is surveillance technology, our office
is concerned about it," said McEvoy of the Office of the Information
and Privacy Commissioner of B.C. Under the Personal Information
Protection Act, organizations are prohibited from collecting data on
citizens without prior consent.