Counter UAS Update, From the Floor of National Public Safety UAS Conference

counter UAS updateThe second day of the National Public Safety UAS Conference in VA began this morning with a series of sessions on some of the most critical issues facing the public safety community. One of those issues is the use of counter UAS technologies to keep unauthorized drones out of sensitive airspace, including the space over prisons where incursions are becoming more frequent.

While current counter UAS technology can detect, monitor and mitigate, the laws do not allow anyone to interfere with an aircraft except under very specific and very limited conditions, when Department of Justice personnel may be authorized to do so.  Public safety agencies or private industry, regardless of what infrastructure they may be responsible for protecting, are not authorized to take a rogue drone down.

Discussing the issue this morning was a panel of experts moderated by DJ Smith, the Virginia State Police Unmanned Aerial and CUAS Systems Program Coordinator and comprised  counter UAS Hub co-architect Tom Adams, DHS cUAS Analyst Mary Rupert, and Airspace Security Coordinator of the United States Capitol Police Robert Campbell.

Dark Drones and Airspace Awareness

Air domain awareness is the top priority of the DHS today, said Mary Rupert.  “We cannot set our security network up without UTM and airspace awareness… How can we protect our airspace if we can’t even see what’s out there?”

Will many agencies are currently using Aeroscope-based systems, these just aren’t enough, says Rupert. “We really need layered systems, so that we can see everything – not just DJI drones.”

Dark drones – those with RF signals disabled to make them more difficult to track – are an emerging threat.  Tom Adams says that to combat dark drones and other emerging trends, airspace awareness is complex. “It’s always going to have to be a layered approach,” he said.  “There’s no silver bullet.  There’s no one thing that will detect all drones… and you need to also look at tools that show crewed aircraft.”  A layered approach implies multiple technologies: ground-based tools like radar, acoustic tools, and software that can put all of that information into an understandable format.

Current Legislative Landscape: SB 1631

DJ Smith began the panel by stating that policy is the most critical aspect of cUAS today.   Despite the existence of sophisticated cUAS tools, law enforcement is not currently authorized to mitigate drone threats – and there is not a current process in place to determine how best to respond to drone threats and define prosecutable offenses.

Mary Rupert says that the legislative landscape around cUAS is in flux. “It changes depending upon who you ask on what day,”   she says.  Currently, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are the only agencies that can conduct advanced drone detection and mitigation.  Within those agencies, only certain departments have authorization under narrow constraints, and that authorization must be continually renewed by extension. “That’s obviously insufficient,” said Rupert

Senate Bill 1631, currently introduced in the Senate, could help to expand authorities.  SB 1631 identifies 3 major gaps in current authority:

  • gives TSA the ability to proactively protect airports from drone threats;
  • grants critical Infrastructure providers such as power plants or chemical facilities the authority to utilize advanced drone detection;
  • creates a pilot program for law enforcement to execute counter UAS authority.

DJ Smith points out that SB 1631 calls additionally for a system of national reporting, which could help protect the nation from a major terrorist incident.  “Looking back at 9/11, we know that missed some of the small things: small things that might have indicated that there was going to be an incident if they had been put together.”  National reporting on drone incidents: whether they are several incidents using the same drone, or several similar incidents in various areas, could also help to indicate a larger situation.

“Drones are cheap, they’re easy… and if we aren’t connecting the small incidents together with national reporting, we are going to be missing the small things,” said Smith.

While the legislation  – and the threats – are evolving, the best way for law enforcement agencies and those protecting critical infrastructure to stay current and educate themselves is to work together, the panel agrees.  “The Counter UAS is good, the authority is good – but its the relationships that are going to help us get through this,” says Robert Campbell.

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Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


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