Get Out of Our Space
Responding and mitigating the threat of drones in and around stadiums
- By Logan Harris
- Mar 01, 2018
Most people, when confronting a drone (Unmanned
Air Vehicle/Unmanned Air System) operating in
or around their area of responsibility in an unsafe
manner, would like to bring it down immediately.
Unfortunately, unless you are a federal agency
with special permission or on a military base, it is unlawful to interfere
with the flight path of a drone. So what can be done?
As it is commonly said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of
cure.” The first step is to inform the public that flying drones in and
around a stadium is illegal and dangerous and operators will be prosecuted.
For instance, at the 2015 Super Bowl, signage and billboards
displayed the message that the area was a “NO DRONE ZONE.”
This type of media campaign has also proven quite effective in Utah,
significantly reducing the number of drones present at wildfires with
posters and signs such as this one, below.
Reducing the number of incidents of drones overhead makes it
simpler to deal with the remaining drones.
Ideally, the safest and most ideal preventive action would be to
stop the drone from ever entering the stadium. A simple way to do
this would be to direct a beam of RF energy onto the drone that
would disrupt the communications to the operator. This can be
done with the kind of Wi-Fi RF jammer that is sold to military and
government groups. These Wi-Fi jammers will stop most, if not all,
hobbyist, commercial and unsophisticated terrorist drones and cause
them to return to where they launched with very little chance of doing
much more than interfering with people’s Wi-Fi connection in the
very near vicinity.
If after activating the Wi-Fi jammer the drone continues toward
the stadium, then there is a very high probability of a serious threat.
The next stage would be to activate a GPS jammer that jams the GPS
receiver on the drone. However, a GPS jammer will also interfere with
cell tower and emergency communications, and should only be used
if the Wi-Fi jammer is ineffective. This technology is already available
and in use by approved organizations.
The problem with the above response method is that it is not legal
to be utilized by stadium operators and law enforcement in most
locations around the world, including the U.S. Namely, it is illegal to
interfere with the flight path of a drone or intentionally interfere with
another electronic device. Some start-up companies have approached
this by trying to develop drones that capture other drones or net guns to snare a drone, but these technologies are yet not authorized by
the FAA to be deployed at stadiums. Others try to hack or spoof
the communication of a drone to gain control, but these approaches
still fall in the same category as RF jamming interference and are
restricted by the FCC.
Because of the difficulty in preventing visits from these unwelcome
guests, the planning and preparation for such an event becomes crucial.
According to Jim Martin from Venue Intelligence, whose Playbook
mobile app is used to plan and communicate event and safety
procedures to diverse stakeholders at live events and large venues.
Key steps that Martin increasingly sees implemented include:
- Understanding what, if any, approved drones will be utilized at
the event. Have all appropriate contact information accessible for
the organization/pilot, and have him/her credentialed and given a
clear understanding of where and how the drone will be used. This
step further allows you to reduce the number of “false alarms” by
identifying those drones that are approved at your event. “This
is an easy one to miss,” says Martin. “We see a number of events
with drones hovering overhead and often just a single person or
two that are aware of whether it’s authorized. It’s better to have
more of your team aware then less, particularly as the public becomes
more aware of the potential risks.”
- Meeting with all the stakeholders and your security team to brainstorm
how to respond to different threat postures that the drone
may take. “The likelihood of a drone carrying a chemical or explosive
is still considered a low-probability (albeit, high impact)
scenario. It’s more likely that an operator would lose control of a
drone and crash it into the crowd or event itself. There should be
some discussion around what to do if that were to occur.”
- Documenting the procedures and creating actionable expectations
of specific roles in reporting/addressing the situation, specifically:
looking for the pilot, taking a picture of the drone and/
or its pilot as you approach, if/ how dialogue, escalation options
and reporting and/or texting information to the appropriate POC.
- Incorporating the new procedure into training events where all
personnel are required to execute the plan of action, identify gaps
and take action to fill those gaps.
- Effectively distributing the procedures and expectations to your
personnel and all key stakeholders. “That was the catalyst for
building the Playbook mobile app,” says Martin. “We want to leverage
all the viable stakeholders at an event or venue as a force
multiplier, and increasingly that includes volunteers. So whether
they want a quick refresher on their specific role, need to take a
picture and text it to a POC or start a quick incident report, that
option is on their phone and just a click or two away.”
- Gathering feedback via a hotwash/after-action meeting to capture
any/all drone-related sightings or observations
Detection and Identification
After the number of nuisance drones have been reduced through proactive
messaging and a comprehensive plan has been established and
communicated across your key stakeholders, the next step is detection
Detection may be done by a number of different sensor technologies
including: acoustic, optical, radio sniffers and radar. Of these,
radar is the most robust as it detects that actual moving target by
transmitting radio waves that bounce off the drone to the radar and
does not suffer from environmental effects like acoustic and optical
sensors. Radio sniffers can also be quite effective if the radio used by
the drone is one known and supported by the radio sniffer. Otherwise,
the radio sniffer will not be able to properly detect that it is a drone.
However, if the drone is running silent by going to a location using
only GPS and no user input, then the radio sniffer will have no
transmissions to detect. Within radar there are several different technologies
available, including large rotating or electronically scanned
radar with ranges of 2km to 4km that cost in the millions. For ranges
of up to 1km there is a smaller and much less expensive radar technology
called Compact Surveillance Radar (CSR) that is able to detect
and pinpoint the GPS location of a drone to ranges of 1km and
is suited for more complex urban environments.
Early detection of an approaching drone is key as it gives security
personnel time to react before the drone is overhead. By detecting the
drone far outside the perimeter, it is possible to train high resolution
cameras onto the drone and evaluate the type of payload being carried.
In the case of a drone simply carrying a video camera, then law
enforcement may be informed and a search for the operator initiated.
If the drone is carrying a large payload of what may be explosives
or dangerous chemicals, then a more complicated response may be
So what does the FAA recommend as the course of action?
The FAA uses the DRONE acronym to help remind those involved
of the recommend procedures:
Direct Attention outward and upward, attempt to locate and
identify individuals operating the drone
Report Incident to the FAA Regional Operations Center
Observe the drone and maintain visibility of the device
Notice features: identify the type of device
Execute appropriate police action
Martin indicated that a number of customers have used Playbook
to share this sort of directive with their volunteers, staff and vendors
but even more importantly, are looking to use the Playbook platform
and other mass notification systems to send discreet escalation messages
that shouldn’t go out over traditional radio.
Preparing for an Evacuation
In the case of a stadium or other large event venue, one of the main
threats posed is the panic caused by the drone dropping suspicious
looking objects or causing explosions. Even if a drone has been detected
and identified carrying a suspicious payload, most stadium operators
would not be inclined to order an evacuation. A drone carrying
leaflets may look exactly the same as a drone carrying biological
or chemical agents and while neither is desirable, the evacuation of a
stadium for such a reason would undoubtedly result in a variety of
significant, if not catastrophic outcomes. That is not to say precautions
shouldn’t be taken.
In the case a suspicious drone, security staff and other associated
resources can be discreetly notified or messaged to prepare
for a possible incident and evacuation, while the appropriate officials
continue to diagnose the drone’s intent. These actions could
include: ensuring all exits and evacuation paths are noted and accessible,
readying stadium parking resources and confirming postevent
By simply walking through a series of precautionary steps and
without taking any extreme measures, event staff can inconspicuously
prepare the venue for a more efficient and effective response
to a crisis.
In some cases, an evacuation is clearly warranted. The Department
of Homeland Security has provided guidance in planning an
evacuation at a stadium. This document describes
the structure, planning and testing of the plan for
numerous types of threats, which now includes
drones. Some organizations have even put together
public evacuation plans that are available to be
viewed on YouTube.
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Security Today.