Guest Editorial By Jackson Markey, Enterprise Sales Manager at Dedrone
It’s a mystery that made international headlines and remains unsolved more than four years on.
On a brisk Wednesday evening in December of 2018, a London Gatwick employee spotted two drones hovering in the facilities: one above a vehicle and another by a perimeter fence.
The sighting sparked a two-day shutdown of the London airport’s only runway, costing airlines nearly $64.5 million in losses. Officials still have no idea who is to blame.
(Thousands of passengers have seen their flights from Gatwick Airport cancelled after two drones were spotted flying over the airfield within a 12-hour period. Courtesy of BBC News and YouTube. Posted on Dec 20, 2018.)
It’s safe to say, unauthorized drones and airports do not mix. Gatwick is just one of several airports to attract headlines over drone intrusions, citing safety concerns and chaos at the check-in desks.
To ensure they aren’t the next front-page story, airports around the world are adding counter-drone technology into their security arsenal and expanding their drone-related standard operating procedures (SOPs).
But there is so much more to drone defense than simply installing smart airspace security systems.
Airport security leaders must apply insights and intelligence from the airspace security solution to gain the most value from their system and create effective SOPs.
These guidelines inform security personnel on how to respond before, during, and after a drone incursion.
Airport Airspace Security in Action
Airports should begin their airspace security journey with the installation of a comprehensive risk assessment to create a data-driven baseline of airspace activity. From this point, airport security can create its own standard operating procedures (SOPs) based on its specific threat profile.
After collecting baseline intelligence and insights on drone activity at an airport, security managers can take a three-tiered approach to develop the appropriate response protocols based on the threat level detected.
(Learn More about unauthorized drone threats from Dedrone, a market leader in smart airspace security, protecting people, property, and information against unauthorized and malicious drones. Courtesy of Dedrone and Vimeo.)
Step 1: Define Threat Tiers
Many airports must first define what sort of drone incursion would require a response, and how to categorize the level of threat. For example:
Low Threat: Drone is detected well outside the outer airport perimeter
Medium Threat: Drone is located near airport perimeter or near takeoff/approach paths
High Threat: Drone is persistent, causing an immediate and substantial risk to airport operations, is weaponized, or a drone swarm (two or more drones simultaneously) are detected
Step 2: Allocate Appropriate Resources
Security managers should develop and test drone response protocols and build a UAS Response Team during “blue sky” conditions – before any drone appears in the airspace. For example:
Connect with local law enforcement and federal agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Union Aviation Safety, and UK Civil Aviation Authority, to determine any cross-coordination required to respond to a drone threat
Launch local “No Drone Zone” awareness campaigns and deploy signage at parks and other public locations nearby
(Do you think your company is safe? Drones are the perfect industrial spies. They are small, they are fast and they can go everywhere. Company security generally focuses on the security at ground level. In most cases authorized people don’t realize if and how often drones enter a company’s airspace. The drone detection system DroneTracker warns security forces as soon as a drone flies over the fence. That way further measures such as seizing landed drones, covering documents, closing shutters or veiling prototypes can be triggered. Courtesy of Dedrone and Vimeo.)
Step 3: Incident Preparedness in Accordance with Threat:
Define, rehearse, test, deploy resources – learn how much time it takes to respond in an emergency – and continue to develop UAS response protocols. Incident response should correspond to the threat level. For example:
Low Threat: Notify proper personnel (SOC, Security, TSA, FAA, local law enforcement) and document details (timestamp, description of UAS, location, altitude, direction of travel, any evasive action by drone)
Medium Threat: Execute protocols consistent with threat AND coordinate with ATC Tower regarding possible deviations of flight operations, notify Operations Manager, Public Relations, and activate Mass Notification (ie. AtHoc Warning System (AWS) and/or Everbridge).
If within airport jurisdiction, deploy security personnel to locate the pilot.
If not, coordinate with the jurisdiction and consider arrest.
If UAS is found on the ground without a pilot, execute protocols for information gathering and documentation (SD Card, Serial Number, etc.).
High Threat: Follow all protocols associated with Low and Medium Threats AND exhaust all resources to identify and detain the UAS pilot.
Establish Unified Command with Local/Federal resources and ATC Tower to alter flights or air traffic movements. Consider runway closures.
Inform airport stakeholders. Employ your own drones once airport operations have halted to expedite the search for the UAS pilot.
Step 4: Prepare for future drone threats through risk mitigation
Analytics are essential for predicting, preparing, and preventing future drone incursions, as documenting post-event learnings in after-action reports (AARs). Airspace security intelligence and insights will provide drone “hotspots,” or likely areas where drone pilots initiate their flight, as well as popular times of day and days of the week.
Drone detection equipment assists in creating predictive analytics and streamlines efforts to locate drones and pilots.
(See a brief demonstration of Dedrone’s software, DroneTracker, which detects, classifies, locates, and when authorized for use, mitigates drones. DroneTracker automatically synthesizes sensor data and provides immediate alerts of unauthorized drone activity, enabling security providers to safeguard their premises. Courtesy of Dedrone and Vimeo.)