While drones may be useful in capturing video of a skyline during sunset or fun when racing them on a private course, they also present a variety of security challenges. As client advisors, we often address the topic of drones and potential countermeasures for them during our assessments of security programs for companies, special events, executive protection teams and private individuals. Many of our clients — including commercial businesses, entertainment venues, sports complexes and government sector entities — are interested in drone technology and how it may negatively impact their day-to-day operations.

1. Recognize that drones represent a growing risk – and new types are on the way

When someone mentions a drone, most people think of aerial-based platforms. However, ground- and water-based versions are also in the mix. Any of these models have the potential to compromise privacy security and safety, and technology advancements often outpace laws and regulations intended to govern usage. However, it is possible to take the knowledge and strategies we do have and leverage this information and data into emerging best practices for mitigating a drone’s adverse impact on what matters most to you.

2. Distinguish the difference between drone countermeasures that emphasize detection vs. disruption

Several companies advertise drone countermeasures that can be loosely grouped into two categories: detection or passive methods (detection), and disruptive or active methods (disruptive).

  • Detection includes (1) receivers designed to provide an alert should any of the radio frequencies associated with drone control equipment emanate in close proximity; (2) audio sensors optimized to detect sound signatures, camera or optical sensors designed to physically see a drone; and *3) radar-based detection. The effective detection range of these devices is short. The range limitations can reduce the warning and reaction time to an approaching drone. Some manufacturers try to increase the detection range by recommending deployment of multiple sensors over a wide area further from the protected facility. This approach can become complicated by property boundaries and the need to acquire multiple suitable detector locations in urban settings.
  • Disruptive countermeasures includes any devices used to disrupt the command or control signal — a process often referred to as jamming or spoofing — and sonic-wave emitters designed to disrupt the gyroscope or stabilization controls, lasers, electromagnetic pulse generators, firearms and capture devices such as net cannons, and net barriers. Birds of prey have even been trained to attack incoming drones.

3. Understand the legal ramifications of various issues – and civil liability

Deployment of detection strategies should not cause too many legal issues, but disruptive countermeasures are another matter. For example, the military or government agencies could use a disruptive method, civilian use of the same method could expose the individual user and employer to both criminal and civil liability.

Current laws and regulations were intended to maintain safe air traffic and reduce disruption to electronic communications. The use of disruptive drone countermeasures could impact normal aircraft flight operations and nearby critical communications. A person using a disruptive drone countermeasure in the United States is most likely violating current law and could be charged with a felony. Civil liability is also an issue; not only might it be illegal to damage another user’s drone, but causing a crash or release of an illicit payload that could harm innocent bystanders could have serious ramifications for both drone owner as well as the one responsible for its demise.

Lawmakers and regulators at all levels are struggling to balance the need to improve public safety, address privacy concerns and maintain an acceptable level of drone usage for commercial and recreational activities, particularly in the context of disruptive methods. Unfortunately, laws alone will not prevent criminals or terrorists from using drone technology. How and when disruptive countermeasures become acceptable will also be a continually evolving consideration. In the meantime, we suggest enhancements to detection.

4. Concentrate your countermeasure strategy on detection – not disruption – at least for now.

Most practical current detection methods only provide a short warning window. Clearing a large gathering or venue within this time window could be difficult, but like we mentioned, domestic use of disruptive strategies is currently illegal in most instances. The question becomes what are the methods available to maximize reaction time within a detection system.

  • Anticipate the Flight Path: One strategy to counter devices under visual control involves predetermining the most likely flight or approach path with direct line-of-sight on the intended target. Some companies involved in drone countermeasures have developed software programs that virtually map the terrain, including buildings in urban settings. This mapping is then used to determine likely observation and guidance points. The approach operates under the premise of controlling or directly monitoring the identified locations.
  • Extend Your Perimeter: Another strategy for detecting visual and GPS-controlled devices is extending the observation area around a facility’s perimeter. This can be accomplished by deploying trained observers at various locations around the facility.
  • Plan. Plan: Pre-planning is also key to maximize the value of this approach. Including mapping the area, an effective communication plan and response plan can better prepare a facility for an incoming drone. The plans could involve tactics such as shelter-in-place, evacuations and so on. These strategies are particularly appropriate for special events and entertainment and sporting venues.

Until Congress or state-level bodies enact laws allowing the domestic use of disruptive countermeasures and possible liability relief, organizations or individuals considering countermeasures technology should look to detection strategies. With the appropriate level of expertise, they can tailor these services for their facility, event or even private home, while considering a cost-benefit analysis and both legal and civil liability impacts.

It’s never too early to start building a defense.

If you’ve got questions about countering the risks of drones and would like additional information, feel free to contact our Security Risk Management team – either myself, at cass.leaton@hillardheintze.com or our practice leader john.orloff@hillardheintze.com.