416 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

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I.  Purpose

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) has initiated an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program to assist in law enforcement and emergency operations by providing increased situational awareness, enhanced safety, and improved operational efficiency. The UAS program will operate the aircraft in coordination with patrol, investigative, and emergency response operations as guided by the Certificate of Authorization (COA) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This policy is designed to minimize risk to people, property, and aircraft during the operation of the UAS while continuing to safeguard the right to privacy of all persons.

II.     Definitions

AGL – Above Ground Level

Airworthiness Certificate – An FAA document which grants authorization to operate an aircraft in flight.  Airworthiness of the UAS will be certified by the Air Operations Section’s Chief Pilot.

Air Boss Operations – Air Boss Operations shall be deployed when planning to deploy multiple flight teams, and multiple aircraft operating in the same airspace. The Air Boss coordinates the notification of the governing air traffic control, communications with and monitoring manned aircraft traffic, and communication between the sUAS flight operations teams and incident command/mission stakeholders. Air Boss Operations should have direct communications and visibility to any technology where drone mitigation and drone counter measures are being deployed in the identified UAS operations area. The Air Boss shall be the point of contact for any TFRs being requested by HCSO.

ATC – Air Traffic Control

AOR – Area of Responsibility

Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight, (BVLOS) –  Operation of the UAS when the Remote Pilot-in-Command (RPIC) or Visual Observer(s) (VOs) responsible for controlling the trajectory of the UAS cannot maintain direct visual contact with the UAS unaided other than by corrective lenses (spectacles or contact lenses), sunglasses or both.  Flights outside the sight of the PIC, PAC, and/or VOs are not allowed (Part 107 Section 107.31); unless granted a waiver by the FAA for BVLOS flights. This excludes flights conducted indoors since this is not part of the controlled national airspace.

Camera and Remote Sensing Operator – During UAS missions where two controllers are used for one UAS, the Camera and Remote Sensing Operator will be responsible for operating the camera and remote sensing functions attached to the UAS.  The Operator will concentrate on recording video and still images or delivery of a payload attached to the UAS, thus allowing the Pilot-in-Charge to concentrate on flying the UAS.

Certificate of Authority (COA) – A document issued by the FAA that allows a “Public Entity” to conduct Flight Operations of a UAS within a specific area and altitude clearance.  The Pilot-in-Command (PIC) must have the COA with them when they fly.

Chief Pilot – Denotes the highest ranking pilot assigned to the Air Operations Section.  The Chief Pilot is the ultimate authority over all HCSO flight operations, including UAS flights.

Control Station – An interface used by the remote pilot or RPIC to control the flight path of the sUAS.

Compliance Documents (CD) – FAA Part 107 documents that are required to have available for inspection upon request during UAS operations. 1. Remote Pilot License/COA/Exemption 333 2. Part 107 approved waivers 3. UAS Operations Manuals 4. UAS maintenance documentation and log books.

Counter Drone Measures – Counter measures to interrupt the flight of an UAS, which poses a direct threat to human life, property and/or other aircraft.

Defined Incident Perimeter – An area or location identified by the incident command.  The location has a defined perimeter to be determined based on the scope of the operation and a defined operational ceiling at or below 400 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).

Drone – a common term for UAV and sUAS (see UAV).

Drone Mitigation – The deployment of unauthorized drone operations (UDO) detection technology to monitor civilian unmanned systems operating in restricted airspace or in heavy populated area. 

Exigent Circumstance Flights – UAS flights that are performed in emergency circumstances where the loss of life and property is imminent or has already occurred. The use of the UAS can be requested by any governmental or statutory agency that is designated to deal with emergencies (Search/Rescue, Tornado, Flooding, SWAT Stand-off, etc.)

Flight Operations Team (FOT) – Consists of the Pilot-in-Command (PIC), Pilot-at-Controls (PAC), Visual Observers (VO’s), Liaison and the Team Leader.  The FOT is authorized to start/suspend/terminate UAS flight operations at any time, based on current FAA rules and regulations, safety of personnel, weather conditions or civilian overflights in the area of operation.  The FOT is responsible for supplemental reports related to the mission and for logging the flight into the HCSO UAS Flight Log. Depending on the operation, team members may be tasked with fulfilling multiple roles.

UAS Flight Log – A system or database used to log information concerning all UAS missions, including training flights.

Liaison – An individual who interacts with incident personnel to avoid distracting the Pilot in Command (PIC) and Visual Observer (VO) from their duties.

Markings – The UAS shall be marked with the FAA Registration Number as required by federal and local law and further may, depending on the size of the UAS, be identified as belonging to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office by prominently displaying “Sheriff” or “HCSO” on the UAS. The Sheriff’s Office UAS may also be marked with red and blue LED lights to further identify the UAS as a law enforcement UAS.

National Airspace System (NAS) – The air space owned and regulated by the Federal Government specifically the FAA. From the ground upward (No defined height limit) is within the jurisdiction of the FAA. 

Operations Coordinator (OC) – A HCSO Supervisor(s) assigned to a Bureau which has a UAS program within the Supervisor’s Bureau.  The OC is designated by the Air Operations Section Chief Pilot to review and approve the use of a UAS in a public safety or law enforcement mission under his/her purview.  The UAS Operations Coordinator has complete oversight responsibility of all logistical and administrative elements of UAS operations within their specified area of command.

Payload Operator (PO) – During UAS/robotics mission where two controllers are used for one robotics platform, the PO will be responsible for operating the camera and remote sensing functions attached to the platform.  The PO will concentrate on recording video and still images or delivery of the data collected by the payload attached to the robotics platform, thus allowing the Pilot At Controls (PAC) to concentrate on flying the UAS.

Pilot-in-Command (PIC) – The person in charge of all flight operations, and responsible for the safe and lawful operation of the UAS.                                                                                          

Pilot at Controls (PAC) – The person directly manipulating the controls and operations of the UAS platform.

Primary Visual Observer (PVO) – means a person who is designated by the Pilot-in-Command (PIC) to assist the PIC and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small sUAS to, “see and avoid” other air traffic or objects aloft or on the ground. The PVO will also maintain communications with all VO’s assigned to the operation. The PVO shall be a licensed pilot to act as a backup to the PIC, except in exigent circumstances when a PVO is not available, the PIC may designate a person to act as PVO in order to complete the mission.

Registration – Is considered to be the UAS registration marking with FAA Registration Number in accordance with 14 CFR Part 45.

Remote Pilot-in-Command (RPIC) – Denotes the “Pilot-in-Command” assigned for any mission. Regardless of rank, the RPIC is responsible for, and is the final authority regarding operation of the assigned UAS.  The RPIC is responsible for following state and federal regulations in the operation of the UAS in a safe and legal manner.  The RPIC will provide a safety briefing prior to all UAS missions and will be responsible for assignments to VO and other personnel assisting in the operation.  

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) – Remotely Operated Vehicle can refer to ground unmanned platforms and maritime surface and sub-surface unmanned platforms. 

Remote Pilot Certificate – A required certification under FAA Part 107.  The Remote Pilot Certificate demonstrates that HCSO UAS pilots understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.  The Remote Pilot Certificate must be available whenever an HCSO pilot operates a UAS (digital copy is acceptable).

Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) – a system consisting of an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) weighing less than 55 lb., and equipment necessary for the safe and efficient operation of that aircraft.

Team Leader – A Deputy or Supervisor designated by the Operations Coordinator to assist with the administrative functions related to the UAS program within a Bureau.  The Team Leader will maintain an inventory of equipment which could be added to the UAS during a specific operation.  The Team Leader is also responsible for the maintenance and operating condition of the UAS.

Safety Officer – The person responsible for operational review and ensuring that personnel and public safety is adhered to in all operations during Air Boss Operations.

TFR – The FAA defines a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) as “a regulatory action issued via the U.S. Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system to restrict certain aircraft from operating within a defined area, on a temporary basis, to protect persons or property in the air or on the ground.” There are different types of TFRs, and they are listed out in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). The regulations for TFRs are located in Part 91 and Part 99 which govern manned aircraft operations. For remote pilots, Part 107.47 requires them to comply with all the TFRs located in Part 91 and 99 as well. TFR violation: (1) criminally punished up to a maximum of 1 year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine, (2) FAA issued pilot license suspended or revoked, and/or (3) civil penalty and/or $100,000 fine.

UA – means an Unmanned Aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds on takeoff, including everything that is on board or otherwise attached to the aircraft.

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – The entire package of components, to include the aerial vehicle, the (FOT) Flight Operations Team, operating systems, and equipment components required for flight operations. 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – An aircraft piloted remotely, with no human control from in or on the aircraft.

Unauthorized Drone Operations (UDO) – UDO’s are civilian unmanned aerial flights in restricted air space identified under FAA TFR or over restricted facilities identified under Chapter 423. Use of Unmanned Aircraft.

Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) – The ability to see the sUAS with the unenhanced sight (naked eye) of the PIC or Visual Observer.

Visual Observer (VO) –The VO is a critical component to the success of each flight event. The VO’s primary duty is to scan the airspace for airborne and ground hazards. These hazards include manned platforms (e.g., fixed-wing aircraft, rotary aircraft, ultralights, paragliders, balloons, gliders, and airships) and other aerial environment phenomena (e.g., birds, weather, animals, and bystanders). The VO immediately notifies the Flight Team of the airborne hazard, and the Flight Team shall conduct the appropriate action to avoid the airborne hazard safely. The VO is defined within the two subsets listed below: A person assigned to assist the PVO by positioning themselves in an area not in direct sight of the PVO to maintain visual sight of the UAS and provide information to the PVO regarding hazards to the UAS.

III.  Policy   

A.  UAS Missions / Operational Planning

1.  The UAS may be used to assist in the development and planning of an investigative and/or enforcement operation, to include the use of 360° panoramic images.

2.  The UAS may be used to assist in pre-planning a large event where public safety and officer safety may be a concern.

3.  The UAS may be requested by Command Staff or their designee to prepare for an event or operation not listed above.

B.  UAS Missions / Operations

1.  Hazardous Materials Incidents – The UAS may be used for imagery, to include the use of thermography, to determine the incident type (i.e. spill/leak/vapor release), product/agent being released, assist with determining   operational zones such as “Hot/Warm/Cold” zones, assist with assessment of spread area including into waterways, as well as determine areas of   evacuation/shelter in place.

2.  Rescue Operations – The UAS may be used for delivery of equipment and supplies including, but not limited to, rope rescue lines, Personal Flotation Devices (PFD), communications equipment, medical supplies, must be within the guidelines of the payload capacity for the UAS.

3.  Special Events / Public Safety Concerns – The UAS may be used for imagery during special events or incidents potentially impacting public safety to assess areas of concern. The UAS may also be used to guide law enforcement and emergency personnel to requests for assistance.

4.   Storm Damage Assessment – The UAS may be used for imagery after a severe weather event to determine affected areas as well as to assess the severity of damage in order to define and prioritize operational areas and needs.  The imagery may also be used to locate available access routes into damaged areas.

5.   Suspect / Lost Victim Search – The UAS may be used for imagery, to include the use of thermography, to assist in the search for suspects or lost victims utilizing live imagery as well as recorded imagery that can be reviewed during search operations.

6.  SWAT / Tactical Operations – The UAS may be used for imagery, to include the use of thermography, and intelligence gathering during planning and execution of high risk events, i.e. barricaded suspects, hostage negotiations / rescue, etc.  

7.  Wildland Fires – The UAS may be used for imagery, to include the use of thermography, to determine the location of the fire “head”, fuel types and amounts, direction of travel, rate of spread, exposure hazards, personnel safe zones and escape routes, operations as a “safety spotter” as well as assistance with division assignments, personnel accountability and safety, etc.

8.  The UAS may be used during any event or operation in which the safety of law enforcement personnel and citizens is a concern.

C.  UAS Missions / Post-Incident

1.  Accident Investigations – The UAS may be used for imagery, to include a 360° panoramic view, to assist with origin/cause, determination of fault and evidence documentation.

2.  Criminal and Crime Scene Investigations – The UAS may be used for imagery, to include a 360° panoramic view, to assist Criminal Investigators and Crime Scene Investigators in the documentation of crime scenes and evidence.

3.  Post-Incident Reviews / Reconstruction – The UAS may be used for imagery to assist with post-incident reviews and/or reconstruction.

4.  Training

The UAS may be used for imagery during operational critiques of events in order to gain knowledge concerning deployment of the UAS and personnel.   The UAS may also be used during training to critique tactical deployment of the UAS and personnel to develop enhanced strategies during missions.

5.  Transparency (Refer to Harris County Departmental Policy #405 Confidentiality and Dissemination of Information).

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is subject to the Texas Government Code Annotated, Chapter 552, “Public Information,” commonly known as the Public Information Act (referred to as the “Act” in this policy), and as stipulated by this Act, the Sheriff is deemed to be the custodian of all HCSO records.

HCSO employees are in a unique position to acquire and to have access to information which, by law or regulation, is deemed confidential or privileged.  Additionally, certain national security operations involving HCSO personnel may involve access to classified information. Such information should not be released pursuant to an open records request.

The Public Information Act gives the public the right of access to many Government records. While all government information is presumed to be available to the public, certain exceptions may apply to the disclosure of some information, keeping it confidential. This policy is issued to allow access to public information created, maintained, or compiled by the HCSO while safeguarding confidential information by timely requesting Texas Attorney General Guidance on specific requests and exclusions. The Harris County sheriff’s Office will provide a notice to the public regarding where the agency’s UAS’s are authorized to operate on the Sheriff’s website.

The Sheriff’s Office will post a copy of this policy in order to keep the public informed about the Sheriff’s Office UAS program as well as changes that would significantly affect privacy, civil rights, or civil liberties.

Harris County will provide annual reporting as required by The Presidential Memorandum February 15, 2015: Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems as well as the biennial reports, which are required by the state.

6. Complaints (Refer to Harris County Policy #231 Internal Investigations) for general rules of conduct that are identified throughout the department policies. The HCSO will investigate any report of improper or unprofessional conduct received against an employee in order to ensure:

a.  The citizens of Harris County are served by public servants who are professional and responsible in their actions,

b.  HCSO employees are protected against false allegations and groundless complaints,

The good name of the HCSO is protected by the enforcement of internal policies and administration of internal discipline, and an effective procedure exists to provide feedback and accountability in HCSO operations for Harris County citizens.

7.  Policy Review – The Sheriff’s Office shall review this UAS policy every two years to make necessary updates.

a.  In order to ensure compliance with Harris County’s existing policies and procedures, and to ensure oversight, the Bureau Major shall audit and or assess the agencies UAS policy every two years.  

D.  UAS will not be utilized under any of the following conditions

1.  Missions that would violate FAA regulations, including operations within restricted airspace without authorization, such as areas of Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR); restricted airspaces near airports, specifically within 2 miles of approaches or within a 5 mile radius of any airport until communications have been established with the airport manager, Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower, or general air traffic via radio.

2.   Manned aircraft operations within the same local airspace as a UAS mission.  For the safety of the aircrew and national air space in general, all UAS shall yield the right of way to manned aircraft.  The exception to this rule is if a TFR has been established and the manager of the TFR airspace has established altitudes and rules in which UAS and manned aircraft can operate within the same airspace.  Even with a managed TFR, the UAS shall yield to the manned aircraft to avoid collision.  This includes the destruction of the UAS if necessary.

3.   Weather conditions that would likely cause the loss of pilot control of the UAS.  These thresholds will depend upon the physical capabilities and design of the UAS.

4.  Those times when the UAS has been tagged for maintenance, repairs, or otherwise grounded.   

5.   The UAS shall not be operated above an altitude of 400 feet Above Ground Level (AGL), except in those situations allowed by FAA regulations.

6.    The UAS shall not be operated where the RPIC, or the VOs cannot  visually observe the UAS or its operations, except in exigent circumstances; or with a waiver as required by FAA Regulations. This excludes indoor operations, outside of the national airspace.

7.  UAS shall not be operated if the RPIC/PIC determines conditions to be unsafe.  The UAS RPIC/PIC has the final decision as to whether the aircraft will be flown. 

8.  The UAS shall not be operated in any situation that would violate Sheriff’s Office Departmental Policies governing general rules of conduct including violation of local/state/federal laws, activities considered harassment, use of alcohol or illegal drugs and actions deemed to be unsafe.

E. Pilot Requirements and Qualifications

1.  All pilots who will be flying UAS missions shall be properly trained by either representatives of the UAS manufacturer or instructors as designated by the Homeland Security Bureau (HSB) or Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB). The UAS pilots will meet all conditions of the (COA) issued by the FAA. The pilots will hold a FAA part 107 UAS license. The pilots will have a current working knowledge of the air space intended for operations, ATC communication requirements, specific UAS aerodynamic factors, and the ability to obtain and interpret weather. All pilots must meet the following flight experience requirements and be current with their UAS flight log entries.

a.  Basic Flight Operations Training. All pilots must successfully complete and pass the Basic Flight Operations Training/Curriculum for UAS as approved by the department or the manufacturer.

b.  Mission Training. All pilots must undergo Mission Training to increase specific core competencies in all UAS operations, systems and roles with conducting a mission in accordance with an approved Mission Training Curriculum. This training is in addition to Basic Flight Operations Training.

c.  In order to accomplish required currency training, pilots shall participate in 8 hours of monthly training, at a minimum.  Recurrent training is not limited to actual pilot/observer skills, but includes knowledge of all pertinent UAS and aviation matters.  To maintain the FAA License, all HCSO UAS pilots will take the required FAA Knowledge Test every two (2) years.

d.  All HCSO personnel authorized as UAS pilots shall read the current COA and maintain proficiency in their operator/observer abilities. Members who do not have documented training or flight time for the preceding 90 days shall demonstrate proficiency before performing pilot/observer duties during a mission.

e.  Failure to maintain/prove proficiency can result in removal from UAS operations.

F. UAS Media

1.  Privacy

a.  UAS recorded data will not be collected, disseminated or retained     solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as the First Amendment’s protection of religion, speech, press, assembly, and redress of grievances (e.g., protests, demonstrations).

b.  Collection, use, dissemination, or retention of UAS-recorded data should not be based solely on individual characteristics (e.g., race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, or gender), which is a violation of the law.

c.  The HCSO shall only collect information using UAS Audio Visual Equipment (UAS/AV) to the extent that such collection or use is consistent with and relevant to an authorized purpose of the Sheriff’s Office and is compliant with the Texas Privacy Act.

d.  Information collected using UAS/AV that may contain personally identifiable Information shall not be retained for more than 60 days from recording unless retention of the information is determined to be essential to an authorized mission of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, is maintained in a system of records covered by the Privacy Act, or is required to be retained for a longer period by any other applicable law or regulation.

The following UAS/AV retention schedule shall be adhered to:

   i.   Trainings/Non-Response – 30 days

  ii.   Incident Response – 1 year

  iii.   Incident Response or Training (personnel Injured) – 5 years

  iv.   Criminal Cases – Court Ordered

2.  Dissemination

a. UAS/AV collected information that is not maintained in a system of records covered by the Privacy Act shall not be disseminated outside of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office unless dissemination is required by law, or fulfills an authorized purpose and complies with HCSO requirements.  Any request for information will be forwarded to HCSO Legal to determine release of information or video.  Authorized release of information or video to local news outlets will be coordinated with HCSO Public Affairs.

G. UAS Deployment

1.  The UAS Operations Coordinator within each Bureau shall assign a Team Leader who shall maintain a list of PICs and VOs within their respective Bureau. The Operations Coordinator and the Team Leader may also serve as a PIC and/or a VO within their assigned Bureau. 

2.  The Operations Coordinator from their Respective Bureau will provide HCSO Emergency Dispatch Center (EDC) a list of UAS pilots and VOs and a callout list of UAS pilots for after-hour missions. The CIB will handle county-wide call-outs and the HSB will only be available for call-out missions on approved HSB scenes.

3.  Shift Supervisors requesting UAS assistance on an emergency basis will contact HCSO EDC to be patched to the proper Bureau Operations Coordinator or On-Call Pilot.  The Shift Supervisor will provide the following information:

a.  Purpose of UAS mission.

b.  Location of mission and defined incident perimeter of proposed flight.

c.  A list of proposed expectations to be obtained from the UAS operation.

If the requested operation is not an emergency, the Shift Supervisor or requesting investigator will complete the High Tech Crime Unit request ticket found on the HCSO Intranet.

4.  Mutual Aid – It is the intention of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, when requested, to authorize mutual aid and support of UAS operations to assist with Federal, State, local, tribal, or territorial government operations when operational assets and personnel are available.

5.  Designated PIC and primary VO FOT will assess the mission by utilizing the HCSO Risk Assessment Form (Attachment A) and determine whether or not the mission will continue.  Once the mission is accepted the following may be needed by the PIC:

a.  Additional VOs may be selected based on the size and scope of the defined incident perimeter.  There must be adequate VOs available to maintain visual sight of the UAS.

b.  Should the UAS be equipped with dual control stations, an additional pilot or trained VO will be selected to assume the role of Camera and Remote Sensing Operator, and will undertake the responsibility of recording video or still images, or controlling the delivery of any payload, thus allowing the PIC to concentrate on flying the UAS.

c.  The PIC may appoint an on-scene liaison to filter information/intelligence between support personnel on the team and the FOT.

d.  Prior to initiating the mission the PIC will complete a HCSO UAS Checklist (Attachment B) to ensure the UAS is functioning properly, and conduct a pre-flight safety briefing to all personnel involved in the mission’s flight operations.

e.  Once the mission is complete, the FOT will enter the flight information into the HCSO UAS Flight Log database and complete any appropriate supplemental reports required.  The FOT will also draft a brief after-action report and forward the report via email to the Air Operations Section Chief Pilot.

H. Reporting

1.  A flight log shall be completed following every UAS flight including maintenance checks and training flights. If the situation of the mission does not allow for immediate entry of the flight data, then the information can be recorded the following work day.

2.  Legislative reporting will be in accordance with the Texas Government Code, Title 4; Subtitle B; Chapter 423; Section 423.008. Reporting shall be not earlier than January 1 and not later than January 15 of each odd-numbered year and shall be for the preceding 24 months. The report shall be retained for public viewing and posted to the HCSO website. The report must include:

a.  The number of times an sUAS was used, organized by date, time, location and types of incidents and types of justification for use.

b.  The number of criminal investigations aided by the use of an sUAS and a description of how the sUAS aided each investigation.

c.  The number of times an sUAS was used for law enforcement operations other than a criminal investigation, the dates and locations of those operations, and a description of how the sUAS aided each operation.

d.  The type of information collected on an individual, residence, property, or area that was not the subject of a law enforcement operation and the frequency of the collection of this information.

e.  The total cost of acquiring, maintaining, repairing, and operating or otherwise using each sUAS for the preceding 24 months.

3.  Accident Notification and Investigation

a.  The PIC must report to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500 (not including the sUAS). All in flight accidents and incidents involving fatalities, injuries, property damage, and lost link shall be reported to the Chief Pilot immediately for appropriate assistance with guidance. If the FAA regulations require the FAA to be notified within 24 hours the same notification and reporting protocols will be followed as the 10 day notification process.

I. Required Equipment

1.  The PIC shall ensure that the Department’s Certificate of Authorization and any FAA operational waivers are present during all flight operations as part of the compliance documents CDs.

2.  All required equipment shall be determined for each mission by the PIC and the UAS Tactical Unit supervisor.

3.  Nighttime operations require additional equipment and FAA/ATC permissions prior to flight. These standards will be followed in accordance with FAA rules and regulations.

J. Equipment Inspection and Maintenance

1.  The UAS unit supervisor will maintain an inventory control log of all equipment assigned to the unit.

2.  The UAS unit supervisor shall ensure that all equipment is periodically maintained based on the manufacturer specifications.

3.  Equipment maintenance shall be performed by manufacturer-authorized personnel.

4.  Heat sensitive equipment shall not be stored in vehicles that will be left unattended.

5.  Heat sensitive equipment and pars must be stored in climate controlled storage facilities.

6.  All UAS equipment will be maintained in accordance with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office UAS Standard Operating Procedures guidelines standard maintenance protocols and procedures.

7.  At least once per quarter, and at the discretion of the Chief Pilot, each Unmanned Aircraft (UA) will be inspected to ensure it is safe for deployment. The Chief Pilot will also conduct a periodic review of each pilot, assessing the pilots flying capabilities and ensuring all mandated training has been met.

K. Environmental Protection Measures

  1. General

a.  All operation(s) contained in this SOP will conform to the environmental protection compliance requirements of EPA 40 CFR.

b.  Operational procedure(s) contained in this document have been evaluated in accordance with EPA 40 CFR and determined that procedures and work tasks do not individually or cumulatively have a significant (negative) effect or impact on the environment.

c.  The primary hazardous material that a UAS Flight Operations Team (FOT) will encounter are the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used by the aircraft and remote controllers. Lithium-ion cells and batteries offer many advantages compared to other power sources. However, they are high-energy devices and shall be considered hazardous at all times.

d.  All personnel working with hazardous materials (HM) and hazardous waste (HW) will be trained to standard in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 29 Part 1910.1200 and 40 CFR Parts 262.34(a)(4) and 265.16(a)-(c).

2. Disturbance of Wildlife

a.  PICs will not conduct unnecessary over-flight of sensitive environmental habitat areas, to include, but not limited to, critical habitat designated under the endangered species act, migratory bird sanctuaries, marine mammal haul-outs and rookeries, and sea turtle nesting beaches. PICs shall be made aware of the location, dimensions and valid time periods of environmentally sensitive areas within the unit area of responsibility (AOR).

b.  The PIC and VO(s) will remain cognizant of wildlife activity within the area of operation, and will avoid the disturbance of such to the maximum extent practicable.

c.  If flying over environmentally sensitive areas, maintain a maximum practicable altitude except during urgent mission operations. Additionally, Commanding Officers may authorize specific training events within environmentally sensitive areas when no reasonable alternatives exist. Limit the amount of time spent at low altitudes to what is necessary to accomplish the particular response or authorized training operation. 

3. Usage of Lithium-Ion Cells and Batteries

a.  Lithium-ion cells and batteries shall be used only in approved UAS equipment. At no time shall the cells or batteries be:

i.  pierced

ii.  cannibalized

iii.  mutilated

iv.  punctured

v.  crushed

vi.  dropped

vii.  dismantled

viii.  short circuited

ix.  exposed to high temperatures

x.  incinerated

xi.  modified *unless approved and at the direction of the manufacturer.

b.  Primary (non-rechargeable) types of lithium cells and batteries shall not be charged or recharged. Lithium-ion battery applications shall comply with the instructions contained herein regarding design, use, packaging, storage, transportation, and disposal.

c.  The battery should be used in temperatures from 14° F (-10°C) to 104° F (40°C). Use of the battery in environments above 122° F (50°C) can lead to a fire or explosion. Use of the battery in an environment below 14°F (-10°C) can lead to permanent damage.

d.  Do not use the battery if it was involved in a crash or heavy impact.  If the battery falls into water with the aircraft during flight, take it out immediately and put it in a safe open area. Maintain a safe distance from the battery until it is completely dry. NEVER use the battery again and dispose of the battery properly as described in Section 4.0.

4.  Storage and Disposal of Lithium-Ion Cells and Batteries Compliance

a.  All lithium-ion batteries and lithium-ion battery-powered equipment shall be stored in compliance with the specific requirements stipulated in appropriate equipment documents. When such documentation is not available, the general storage requirements listed below shall be followed.

i.  Ventilated Shelter: Store batteries in a dry, cool (below 130°F (54°C)) ventilated shelter out of direct sunlight.

ii.  Shelter Stowage: Use shelter only for the stowage of lithium-ion batteries and equipment containing lithium-ion batteries.

iii.  Field Storage: In the field, avoid covering containers of batteries with a black or dark-colored tarp.

5.  General Guidance storing Lithium-Ion Batteries and equipment

a.  Store new batteries in original packaging. This helps to identify damage such as swelling or leakage of batteries. Swelling of the bag indicates a battery that has vented.

b.  Do not allow the batteries to come into contact with any kind of liquid. Do not leave batteries in the rain or near a source of moisture. Do not drop the battery into water.  If the inside of the battery comes into contact with water, chemical decomposition may occur, potentially resulting in the battery catching on fire and may even lead to an explosion.

c.  Do not mix new and used batteries since it is difficult to distinguish between them.  Do not accumulate used batteries; dispose of used batteries on a regular basis.

d.  Segregate storage from other hazardous materials and other battery chemistries. It is critical that lead acid batteries be kept away from nickel cadmium or nickel metal hydride batteries.

e.  Protect from crushing, punctures, and shorting.

f.  Keep in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, below 130°F (54°C)

g.  Protect bulk storage of batteries with sprinklers.

h.  Do not allow smoking in the vicinity of battery storage.

i.  Ensure fire extinguishers are available in the vicinity of the storage area. Use a type “AB” (H2O) extinguisher to fight fires involving small quantities of batteries. A type “D” extinguisher would be used to fight a lithium fire by professional fire fighters.

6.  Partially Used Batteries

For partially used batteries intended for reuse, protect battery connectors or terminals from inadvertent short circuits. Examples of protection methods include use of non-conductive tape (i.e. masking, electrical, or duct tape), terminal plugs, or individual plastic bags.

7.   Disposal of Lithium-Ion Cells and Batteries

Harris County provides a vendor to dispose of lithium-ion batteries which no longer hold a charge. There is also a separate vendor who accepts batteries which have been damaged, are expanded, or are leaking.  The Team Leader for Bureaus using UAS systems will maintain a listing of approved vendors; and will maintain supplies used for disposal.  Discarding of lithium-ion batteries will be conducted in the following manner

a.  Do not place unusable or damaged batteries in regular trash containers.

b.  The battery will be completely discharged prior to packaging.

c.  Cover the battery terminals with non-conductive tape such as masking, electrical, or duct tape.  Do not use Scotch® tape.

d.  Place the battery in a clear plastic bag, i.e. Ziploc® bag. Bag each battery separately.

e.  Once properly packaged, unusable or damaged batteries will be transported to the proper Harris County vendor for disposal.

6. Travel Notice

Before carrying the lithium-ion Intelligent Flight Battery on an airline flight, it must first be fully discharged. This can be done by using your aircraft until the battery is depleted. Only discharge the battery in a fireproof location. Cover the battery terminals with non-conductive tape and place the battery in a clear plastic bag as described in 4.5 c-d above.  Note: All lithium-ion batteries must be hand carried on a plane. No lithium-ion batteries are authorized to be included in checked luggage.


FAA Regulation 14 CFR part 107

Texas Government Code Title 4. Subtitle B. Chapter 423.

Department Policy 231


This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

August 27, 2021

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