Counter-Drone Deployment: The Third Dimension Is the Next Dimension

Even though facilities can be protected at ground level, air-based threat penetration from drones is becoming increasingly prominent.

Most security systems are two-dimensional. Securing property with fences, locks, alarms and other tools make up the first dimension, and securing networks, computer systems and data with cyber tools makes up the second layer. The third dimension, which is an area that requires immediate attention, is the airspace above and around facilities.

Even though the facility that is being defended or protected is on the ground, the ability for air-based threats to penetrate it is becoming increasingly more prominent. Not only can drones enter airspace armed with explosives or other lethal weapons, but they can also conduct espionage and gather information about facilities, security patterns and tools that are used on the ground.

Airspace security has, until recently, been left to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or local government to control. Security professionals need to think of airspace as a vulnerability. Consider: with a huge rise in consumer and hobbyist drones being operated by individuals with little or no professional experience, there is a growing risk that the airspace above and around properties can be breached by a drone.

In fact, as of January there were almost 1.8 million drones registered in the United States by the FAA. Only 27% of registrations (522,645) were for commercial operation.

Preponderance of Airspace Breaches

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of examples of when airspace security was breached, with the most recent example being this past Super Bowl. The FAA reported over 71 illegal drone incursions over the Super Bowl’s no-fly zone. Though none of these resulted in a threat, the possibility of an armed drone that could harm a crowded sports arena is still a stark reality.

The Saudi Aramco facilities were ripped apart by drones in 2019. Other facilities noting issues include the Palo Verde power plant in Arizona and prisons across the country. These facilities are all drastically different, with one similarity being their counter-drone security was clearly inefficient.

Many airports have experienced issues while trying to keep drones out of their airspace and away from flights. Airports have the largest combined financial and security threat risk. While the Gatwick shutdown cost the airport only about $1.8 million in two days, the cost to airlines was massive, over $19 million respectively. A $2,000 drone caused millions of dollars of lost revenue and disrupted thousands of travelers.

Event and industrial facilities are also easy targets, offering criminal operators a prime target for either harming human life or damaging property, causing economic harm and disrupting facility operations.

As security professionals, it’s our job to stay ahead of the threat and to be a trusted resource on the best tools and strategies for safety and security. The counter-drone solutions on the market today should easily integrate with existing security solutions, making the whole system seamless and complete.

We must understand the specific requirements of each security operation to know when an airspace system should use radar, optics, thermal or other sensors and whether or not a counter-drone interdiction tool is needed while adding the third dimension discussed above. There are profound differences in the systems on the market today — many geared toward military and large-scale operations — while others can create a foundation for airspace security and offer an end-to-end solution when integrated with a site’s current system.

Regulations vary state by state on certain drone interdiction systems. Even if a mitigation solution isn’t chosen today, end users should put in place a detection solution so that they know the size of the problem before deciding on a solution.

Questions for Integrators to Answer

The biggest barrier for facilities is likely the cost; but, like any new technology that requires understanding and adaptation, the cost of exposure and harm is far greater than the security of having a good system in place. Much like cybersecurity and antivirus software or encryption was a new or unexpected expense a decade or so ago, it is now an essential part of any business.

When considering technology to secure the third dimension, there are a few preliminary questions that security professionals and integrators should ask themselves, including:

  • Does it integrate with other systems or sensors?
  • Do I need a full-time “man in the loop” or people to continuously manage it?
  • Is it autonomous or can it be?
  • While cost is a factor, what is the cost to my customer’s site, organization or to human life if they don’t adopt a solution?

Once these questions are answered, integrators will be well on their way to choosing the perfect counter-drone solution for their end customer’s facility.

drone Dimension Gregg Pugmire is vice president of worldwide sales at Pleasant Grove, Utah-based counter-drone specialist Fortem Technologies.

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