The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in January 2018 that the number of registered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—drones—in the United States had exceeded one million. Between hobbyists and commercial users, the FAA forecasts almost three million drones operating in U.S. airspace by 2022.
FAA regulations prohibit drones from operating within three nautical miles of certain NASCAR events or a stadium hosting an NFL, MLB, or NCAA Division One football game. But these regulations are not always followed. In May 2017, a UAV made a crash landing into a San Diego Padres game. In November 2017, a California man was arrested for flying a UAV over two Bay Area NFL stadiums and attempting to drop pamphlets into the crowd.
From Hobbyist Drone to Aerial Weapon
While these incidents did not cause great harm, ISIS has shown in Iraq and Syria that UAVs can be modified to deliver explosives. FAA regulations will not deter a motivated adversary with malicious intent. In fact, the FAA has noted that “state and local [law enforcement agencies] are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop unauthorized UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] operations.”
One challenge for stadium security and cooperating local and state law enforcement agencies will be to determine intent—distinguishing a terrorist attack from a hobbyist drone veering inadvertently into restricted airspace—and locate the pilot as well as the UAV. Different companies offer solutions for this problem, based on pattern analysis and/or signature matching, which have been used at special events and are being tested at military installations and airports.
Another challenge is stopping the UAV if the pilot will not. Various technologies are available, including an anti-drone jamming gun or, perhaps less reliably, training birds of prey. Yet the legal framework for stopping malicious drone use is evolving. Section 1692 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 allows the Department of Defense to protect “covered facilities” relating to the defense mission from drones, but this does not empower state and local officials. Under federal law, it is generally illegal to jam signals or to “damage, destroy, disable, or wreck” any aircraft. Yet the FAA recognizes that laws traditionally related to state and local police power—including land use, zoning, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement operations—generally are not subject to federal regulation. Most states have passed laws regarding UAVs; and two states have specifically allowed authorities to disable drones. Stadium security officials are left to work with law enforcement partners to understand the authorities applicable in their area, while leagues may seek to promote more consistent “model” legislation regarding their security concerns.
Small Steps to Preparedness
There may be no standard, one-size-fits-all solution for the risks posed by unauthorized UAVs. But the lack of a perfect solution does not mean nothing can be done. Consider taking these steps:
- Gain awareness and time. Buy–or partner with local law enforcement to gain access to–a drone detection and monitoring system.
- Understand options. Consult local law enforcement and legal counsel about what stadium security or local law enforcement partners can do regarding a potentially threatening drone or, if located, its pilot. Understand the consequences of taking or not taking certain actions, and determine which risks your leadership is willing to accept or tolerate.
- Plan, train, and exercise. Within the capabilities you have available, the legal framework applicable to your jurisdiction, and the risk tolerance of your leadership, plan what you will do about UAVs under different conditions—and then train and exercise to those plans.
- Expand options. Engage FAA regulators and local, state, and/or federal legislators to create authorities to act.
Within this evolving landscape, Cadmus’ David Waldman will be facilitating a discussion-based exercise on detection, surveillance, deterrence, and response for potential UAV threats at the UAV Innovation and Technology Forum on May 15-16, 2018, at the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4). We look forward to the exchange of views on best practices in the field.