Securing the “New” Higher Ground

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Securing the “New” Higher Ground

There are many things to be aware of if you are a security team in charge of maintaining public safety during an event at an arena or stadium. You have to worry about threats on the ground—abandoned bags, forbidden items, perimeter security—as well as threats in the air, including drones.

Drones have become widely popular within the last few years as technology becomes more innovative, allowing for high quality images from a small flying device. Reports from the FAA show that these unmanned aircrafts are only getting more popular. The FAA estimates small, hobbyist Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) purchases will grow from 1.9 million in 2016 to as many as 4.3 million by 2020. The report also estimates sales of UAS for commercial purposes will grow from 600,000 in 2016 to 2.7 million by 2020. Combined, we will see an expected rise to 7 million purchased UAS in 2020.

“People are always looking for a new way to tell a story or view the world,” Dedrone CEO Joerg Lamprecht said. “Cameras on drones are giving people a bird-eye view of an area— something that can’t be accomplished with any other hardware. Drones allow camera operators to reach new vantage points, and show a new way to view a game or performance. We’re seeing the same thing come up with virtual reality in sports, and saw this in the past with the integration of high-definition filming. Drones with cameras are a new way to showcase the details of a performance; however, unlike HD and VR, drones overhead watching a game or performance pose significant safety and security risks.”

While these unmanned aircrafts are mostly used professionally and recreationally to add depth and intrigue to films and videos, security teams need to be aware of the threats they could pose on those below. A UAS could crash into or drop unidentified chemicals on players, performers or spectators, or capture unauthorized footage of a performance, game or practice.

We’ve seen these threats play out first hand at major events around the country. For example, at the U.S. Open in September of last year, a drone crashed into the seating area during a tennis match between Flavia Pennetta and Monica Niculescu. The match was paused briefly to allow for the drone to be confiscated. Thankfully no one was hurt.

For Lamprecht, the results of a malicious UAS could be much worse than what happened at the U.S. Open.

“Commercial drones are capable of being transformed into powerful weapons, and can be bought anywhere without a license,” Lamprecht said. “Pilots may have unknowingly flown in to protected airspace by accident, a drone may have been hijacked from the pilot, or a pilot may have malicious intention to cause physical harm to the building or spectators.”

Arenas and stadiums are known for having built-in infrastructure that helps protect the people inside, including fences, surveillance cameras, and metal detectors. Surprisingly, little can be done to protect the headspace above the facility, making it extremely vulnerable.

“We look at arenas/stadiums and see terrorism risks, such as drones carrying or dropping unidentified payloads,” Lamprecht said. “There is also the risk of drone crashes, which could be intended or unintended from a spectator outside the arena who may want to get footage for personal or commercial use, therefore capturing illegal images and videos. A drone can easily carry anywhere from four to six grams , all the way upwards of to 200 pounds, and can stay in the air for over an hour—enough to fly multiple miles. A crash could be catastrophic.”

So, what can security teams at these facilities do to create a safer, more protected airspace? Lamprecht would tell you the best way is to invest in detection software that allows stadiums and arenas to expertly detect and track a drone that comes near or into the airspace of the facility.

“Dedrone works with arenas/stadiums by setting up the DroneTracker software platform, which provides airspace monitoring and displays on a convenient browser interface,” Lamprecht said. “DroneTracker allows users to readily configure multiple sensors, including cameras and radio frequency/Wi-Fi, and deploy active and passive countermeasures for automatic, 24/7 operation. The software continuously displays real time airspace information, and detects and identifies drones using Dedrone’s DroneDNA advanced analysis and pattern recognition capabilities.”

Dedrone’s DroneTracker combined with DroneDNA are able to sort through other objects that may be in the air above a stadium or arena, such as a bird, kite or blimp.

“Drones have a unique communication signal which can be detected through Wi-Fi and radio frequency,” Lamprecht said. “Dedrone’s software platform listens in to these signals, along with using cameras, to identify whether the aerial threat is a drone or other aircraft. DroneTracker can currently detect over 400 drones, and this number is increasing every day. As we are a software platform, we’ve created a future-proof solution that automatically updates along with our advancements.”

Once a potentially malicious drone is detected, there are a few steps security teams can take to protect from the UAS, but they have to be careful not to obstruct the drone as these unmanned devices are actually protected through the FAA, just like any other aircraft. It is illegal to in the United States to interfere with a drone while it is in the air, so security operations at stadiums and arenas have to find a way around these policies to protect the facilities.

“You cannot just shoot it down or jam the signal of a drone, and furthermore, you don’t want to distract the pilot if they are looking to redirect the drone, and potentially cause them to crash,” Lemprecht said. “DroneTracker has a sensor which allows for an accurate reading of the direction of the drone, so in the case a tailgater is playing with a drone, a security guard can personally approach the pilot.”

While security guards make their way to the drone’s pilot, the priority is to keep spectators out from under the path of the drone.

“Another measure we advise is to move patrons of a show away from a hovering drone,” Lemprecht said. “If there is a retractable roof, the detection of a drone can automatically deploy its closure. Security can also deploy a strobe light or light signal in the camera of a drone, to alert the pilot that it is a no-fly zone and prevent them from capturing footage.”

One of the most widely used terms that is associated with drone protection is “no fly zone” but Lamprecht says there is actually no such thing as a fence or gate that automatically redirects a UAS through signal.

“‘No fly zones’ are a suggestion, not an actual deployment, as we still see drones coming through federally protected airspace at airports, and distracting operations,” Lamprecht said. “Reports of possible drone sightings to FAA air traffic facilities continue to increase, with the FAA noting there were 1,274 such reports from February through September last year, compared with 874 for the same period in 2015.1”

As the sightings continue to increase, so does the threat level. Lamprecht says the wide availability of the machines coupled with advances in technology will only create more of a need for detection software at facilities were mass numbers of people congregate.

“This risk is becoming more and more apparent to stadiums and arenas, especially as drones become accessible to any user, and there are limited laws barring operation,” Lamprecht said. “Arenas and stadiums will need to consider what sort of protection they want to provide their spectators and performers from aerial threats as a part of their overall security program ecosystem.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Security Today.

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