Increased use of drones is raising privacy hackles across the land. But it's also giving first responders the willies.
Anecdotally, drones have already caused some UFO reports in the U.S.. Last June, police in the Washington, D.C. area received many reports of an unidentified craft being transported on the back of a flatbed truck around the Beltway. That turned out to be a military drone being transported to a Naval base in Maryland. In March, the FBI investigated an unidentified drone that a commercial pilot spotted near New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
But Tony Hallett, CEO of Unmanned Response, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based company that's offering consulting for first responders looking to use drones, says that's the just beginning.
"You have to think of the older people who have no concept of what a drone is," he says. "They'll see something flying around the neighborhood with an LED light on, and essentially they're right. It'll be an unidentified flying object for them."
His company is putting together a training program to help 911 operators determine whether a report of a UFO might simply be a drone.
"We're putting together a training program for public safety officials to get them ready for those kinds of calls and for more serious calls about drones falling out of the sky and hitting cars in traffic," he says. "I can guarantee that every 911 center in this country will see an increase in calls for UFO reporting."
That might already be happening. The National UFO Reporting Center, which has tracked UFO sightings since 1974, reported 5,450 UFO sightings in 2011. Last year, there were 7,776 sightings, a 42 percent year-over-year increase.