Handling the Threat of Drones on Your Campus

Like it or not, institutions must plan for the growing threat posed by unmanned aerial vehicles.

As if security managers didn’t have enough to worry about during major events on campus, drones are becoming an increasingly common problem.

Hobbyists and other people using drones for recreational purposes see events as opportunities to take photos and capture action from unique angles.

Although drones could also be used for more insidious purposes, the vast majority of drones that officers encounter are being operated by innocent, if reckless, civilians.

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“First off, not all drones are bad, they’re intended to be a very positive thing,” says Dwayne Folkes, the assistant superintendent at Lamar County School District in Mississippi. “But we still have to deal with the fact that something could happen from well-meaning operators.”

Folkes’ district regularly hosts football games that attract around 6,000 fans. To keep those events safe, the school board has adopted a drone policy based on guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.

“We also have specific no-fly zones during events and the people and policies in place to deal with violations of that rule,” Folkes says.

The FAA requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles, such as a 55-pound weight limit and 100 mph speed limit, were released June 21 after months of deliberation.

Algen Williams, an architect for stadium-design company Populous, says he thinks the regulations were a great first step, but warns about limiting an institution’s ability to protect its campus against drones.

“There’s a challenge that the FAA is going to have to overcome, because I think there’s a growing threat,” Williams says. “The FAA is going to have to address the imbalance between what someone who’s operating a drone can do versus what a venue can do to protect themselves.”

One rule Williams may have been referring to is the FAA’s policy on shooting down drones. Federal guidelines state that “regardless of the situation, shooting at any aircraft, including unmanned aircraft, poses a significant safety hazard. An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air.”

Fear of crashing drones causing injuries are legitimate, but with videos online of drones equipped with guns and flamethrowers, one can imagine a scenario where shooting down a drone is the safest possible outcome.

Luckily, there’s other methods institutions can adopt to detect drones and deter them from events. Hitachi offers a product that captures a drone’s radio frequency to alert officers of its presence. The product can then block the operator’s frequency to take over the drone’s flight.

“We’re a lot stronger than the drone controller,” explains Hitachi Data Systems’ Director of Business Development Chris Jensen. “So we can send it home or fly it to a safe zone or drop it out of the sky if it’s an immediate threat.”

Jensen also stressed that Hitachi’s system doesn’t interfere with the surrounding radio frequencies, a critical part of incorporating it into event security.

Whatever measures an institution takes to mitigate the threat of drones, there’s little doubt that it’s going to become a bigger problem.

“A lot of these drones now have a half hour plus of flight time and seven pound payloads,” Jensen says. “So they could be carrying a toxic substance or an explosive. Drones are posing more of a threat as their capabilities increase.”

Since ignoring the threat is no longer an option, Folkes says institutions need to get ahead of the problem.

“Be proactive. Get with your school board, talk with others who have implemented similar plans, and develop policies,” Folkes, who has yet to have an incident with drones, says. “Then you have to educate the public through signage and social media and all that to let them know what’s permissible and what’s not.”

Establishing a policy that includes no-fly zones is a great first step. Unfortunately, institutions must now determine protective measures to take once that policy is violated.

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About the Author


Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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