Author: Lt. Dan Marcou
By Tom Switick, P1 Contributor
The August 4 assassination attempt of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro brought the attention of the world to a problem the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of forward-looking security companies have been discussing for a while – the potential for a drone-based attack in the United States. Maduro was delivering a speech at an event celebrating the country’s national guard when two drones carrying plastic explosives exploded nearby.
While the threats from UAVs are not new, they have not yet been prevalent in the domestic US. Our military personnel have been under siege from UAV attacks for years. COTS (consumer off the shelf) drones are modified to carry and drop IEDs on our military almost daily. The DoD recently issued multiple RFPs seeking ways to counter UAV attacks overseas. They are throwing millions of dollars at the problem and still don’t have a firm solution.
Just a few minutes on the internet reveals the amount of planning and effort the “bad guys” put into executing their plans. But what are we doing in the continental United States where you are responsible for providing the security and safety of your citizens? What is your counter-UAV ops plan?
Preparing to respond to a drone attack
Terror attacks have been part of the national conversation since September 11, 2001. As a member of law enforcement who served at Ground Zero, I can assure you they have been part of my daily thoughts since that time. The good news is that when it comes to drone-based terror threats, there are many ways law enforcement officers, officials and others charged with maintaining public safety can prepare for and mitigate this threat.
Here are five things you can do right now:
1. Read the regulations.
Become familiar with current FAA regulations in regard to aircraft since drones – both fixed-wing and rotor-type – are classified as aircraft. Research your local airspace restrictions in the B4UFLY app, which is available for most smart phones. This app also alerts you to any temporary restrictions in your airspace, helping you identify legal drones versus drones flying in restricted airspace.
2. Spot the difference.
Learn the difference between hobbyist and commercial drone operations, and the regulations drone pilots must comply with. Neither hobbyist or commercial drones can fly over people, beyond visual line of sight, at night or above 400 feet.
3. Take the threat seriously.
Most accredited agencies have a standard operating procedure (SOP) for everything – including when to wear your cover and when meal breaks can be taken. Why should protocol for sighting a drone be any different? Know what steps to take in order to classify the drone operation you’ve sighted as legal or illegal and what to do next if the operation isn’t in line with the rules.
4. Get UAS and counter-UAS training.
Everyone should be on the same page when it comes to operating your own drones and handling unwanted or illegal drones. Work with local officials to plan accordingly and solicit training and guidance from experts in the field of counter-UAS on how best mitigate a potential drone attack.
Currently, there are several counter-UAS technologies being tested and developed, but none are legal in the United States if they interfere with flight or operations of the drone (since drones are considered “aircraft,” it is unlawful to interfere with or disable one.) That said, when public safety is at risk, your department may be willing to accept the legal implications of disabling a drone. That decision will be made by each department and may ultimately be regulated nationally.
It is the operator rather than the drone that is the problem. Your plans should revolve around identifying and locating the operator of any drone flying in a place it shouldn’t be, and those plans should follow a use-of-force continuum as you move toward disabling or destroying a threatening drone. If you do select a C-UAS technology or combination of technologies, remember that a box is just a box. To operate the box effectively, police UAS training is key.
5. Practice like you play.
Treat counter-UAS as you do every other threat you face. Don’t just settle on your SOP and call it a day. Practice employing your SOP, adjust what didn’t work and try it again until you succeed in creating a true plan that will prepare you for the real thing. Make sure your perimeter security personnel know what to look for and what to do when they see it. Investigate, test and deploy counter-UAS technologies and use a “red” squadron of aggressor UAVs to test your officers’ skills and responses. Then correct any deficiencies and test them again.
It is essential law enforcement agencies learn what drones are capable of their limitations. There is no doubt that UAS-borne threats are real and imminent. Prepare today to defend against this threat tomorrow.
About the Author
Tom Switick is a retired NJ police lieutenant and deputy OEM coordinator. He was part of the response at Ground Zero on 9/11 and has an extensive background in fire and EMS. Tom is part owner of redUAS, LLC a company focused on providing counter-UAS training, tactics and services.