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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

No drones at RNC convention after all



TAMPA -- No drones will buzz over the heads of protesters at next year’s Republican National Convention after all.

After seeking bids for a possible package of security cameras that included specs for two “unmanned aerial vehicles,” police this week dropped the idea.

“They cut the drones,” Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Friday.

The city’s specifications for surveillance cameras to be deployed at the convention originally included 238 cameras of various types. But that package is expected to evolve and may well shrink as convention organizers determine their needs, resources and the event’s security perimeter.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said. “We’re not even close to pinning this down yet.”

At first, the city asked for proposals on two drones that could hover for 20 minutes, fly in 20-knot winds and carry cameras with zoom lenses or thermal imaging capabilities.

Looking at the drones was attractive because of the possibility that in the long run they might offer some of the benefits of a police helicopter, an extremely useful but also very expensive law enforcement tool.

But police eliminated the drones from their convention shopping list because of the possible cost, the fact that they had limited flight time and the possibility that they might run into problems with federal aviation regulations, Hamlin said.

Among other things, city officials also asked for proposals on 164 cameras able to read a number 3 inches high at 300 meters in the day;  20 helmet cameras with 2 1/2 hours of recording time to document crowd disturbances; six trailer-mounted mobile cameras on booms that rise 20 feet or more; and six breadbox-sized cameras for covert use around high-risk activities.

With an eye on costs, however, officials also are revising their requests for some of these other cameras, too.

So instead of cameras that can read license plates across six lanes of traffic, they’re asking for cameras than can scan across three. Instead of cameras that can operate in no light, they’re looking for cameras that work in very low light.

The money to buy or lease this gear is expected to come from a requested $55 million congressional appropriation for convention security.
Two companies responded to the city’s request for proposals. One is Avrio RMS Group, based in the Washington, D.C., area, which provided video surveillance at both national political conventions four years ago. The other is Iron Sky, based near Houston, with wireless video surveillance systems in 30 cities.

Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 2:27pm]


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