Securing the Skies

Key Takeaways from Our Webinar on Drone Safety in Large-Scale Events

Drones have become increasingly ubiquitous today, revolutionizing various industries and changing how we conduct business and daily life. With this growing prevalence comes the need for effective security measures, especially during large-scale events. To address this challenge, Toffler Associates recently hosted a webinar bringing together industry experts to discuss the importance of drone security and share their experiences in tackling this issue.

Moderated by Toffler Associates’ own Hans Davies, the webinar featured an insightful panel consisting of Salvatore DeAngelis, VP of Operations and Security for the Philadelphia Phillies; Laura Romond, Manager of Security Operations; and Kevin Hackenbrack, Director of Security Operations. The discussion centered on the need to distinguish between benign and malicious drones and ensure the safety of attendees while enabling the positive uses of drone technology.

As drone applications expand and proliferate, understanding and implementing effective security measures during large-scale events has become increasingly vital. In case you missed the webinar, we summarize the key takeaways in this article.

Drone Threats in Sports Stadiums

Salvatore DeAngelis highlights that sports stadiums like Citizens Bank Park are experiencing increased drone activity, averaging about a drone a day. Most of these drones are operated by hobbyists seeking great pictures or footage, but the sheer volume of drones presents challenges for security teams. The rise in drone usage, especially during large-scale events, demands vigilance to ensure fan safety and the protection of the venue and its occupants.

Intellectual Property Concerns

Drones, when used improperly or without authorization, can pose a significant threat to the protection of proprietary content. They can capture high-resolution images and video footage of live events, which can then be distributed without permission or even sold for profit. This unauthorized distribution of event footage infringes on the rights of event organizers, broadcasters, and other stakeholders who hold exclusive rights to the content.

Malicious Intent

Drones can be weaponized or used for nefarious purposes, posing a serious risk to the safety and well-being of people attending large-scale events at stadiums. A drone may be used to harm attendees and staff or intentionally disrupt an event by causing panic or interfering with communications and other critical systems. Stadium security teams must be prepared to identify and neutralize such threats to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all guests.

Inexperienced Operators

With the growing popularity of drones as a recreational hobby, there is an increasing number of amateur drone pilots who may inadvertently cause accidents or disruptions due to a lack of expertise in operating their devices. Inexperienced operators may lose control of their drones, leading to crashes that can result in injury to people, damage to property, or interference with an ongoing event. Additionally, these operators may not be aware of local regulations or restricted airspace around a stadium, which can lead to unintentional violations.

Unique Challenges of Drone Threats

Salvatore DeAngelis explains that drone threats are unique because they are “faceless and locationless,” making it difficult to identify the operator and their intent. Drone threats are not limited to event hours, presenting a 24/7 challenge for security teams. Laura Romond adds that while physical barriers can be implemented around a venue, controlling the airspace above it is significantly more challenging.

Cybersecurity Concerns

Drones can also present cybersecurity risks, as they have the potential to interfere with a venue’s day-to-day business. Ensuring the security of digital assets and networks is crucial in this age of technology. While drone detection technology may help locate operators, cyber threats remain elusive and require a robust cybersecurity strategy to keep venues and their occupants safe.

Approaches to Drone Security

Laura Romond underscores the importance of proper de-escalation when addressing drone incidents. This involves educating drone operators on safe practices and working with local authorities to ensure compliance with regulations. The majority of drone operators are simply looking to capture great shots or enjoy their hobby, so education plays a key role in preventing potential issues.

Continuous Awareness & Monitoring

One of the best practices employed by stadiums, such as the Citizens Bank Park, is maintaining continuous awareness and monitoring of drone activity in the area. By having a drone detection system installed since 2019, the stadium security team can track trends and timelines and identify potential threats. This constant monitoring allows the team to be prepared for any situation, including high-profile events like the World Series. During such events, extra personnel is deployed on-site, in the event command post, and around the stadium to ensure visual, CCTV, and drone detection coverage.

Building Strong Partnerships

Establishing strong relationships between the sports complex, local entities, and outside agencies is crucial for effective drone security. By working together and sharing information, these organizations can build a solid foundation for addressing drone-related concerns. These partnerships ensure that all parties are prepared and ready to act in the event of a drone incident, ultimately contributing to a safer environment for fans and staff.

Staff Education & Communication

Effective communication is key to ensuring that all staff members are aware of potential drone threats and how to respond. Empowering staff to report any suspicious drone activity is essential for maintaining a safe environment. Staff should be trained to “see something, say something” when they notice any unusual drone activity, regardless of whether the command center has already been alerted. This approach ensures that there are multiple eyes on the situation, leading to a quicker response and resolution.

Managing Approved Drone Use

In some instances, drones may be used by the stadium itself for marketing or operational purposes. In such cases, a clear communication plan should be in place to inform all relevant parties of the approved drone use. This plan should involve obtaining necessary approvals from relevant authorities and informing local partners and law enforcement. By providing detailed information on the approved drone use, such as the launch and landing location and the drone’s information, partners can whitelist the drone and avoid any confusion or unnecessary alarm.

Balancing Technology and Human Intervention

While cutting-edge drone detection technology is essential for identifying potential threats, it is equally important to recognize the value of human involvement. Stadium security teams should prioritize the education and empowerment of staff to identify and report drone-related incidents. This combination of technology and human intervention ensures a comprehensive and robust approach to drone security, keeping fans, staff, and venues safe from potential threats.

Educating the Staff and Fans

Staff Education

Educating staff members across various departments is essential for raising awareness about the potential risks associated with drone usage. Since drones don’t have a face and their intent is often unknown, it is crucial to emphasize that not every drone is necessarily dangerous, but caution should always be exercised. By consistently reinforcing this message and educating staff, awareness of drone-related risks becomes muscle memory for all involved in the organization.

To further emphasize the seriousness of drone threats, real-life case studies can be used to demonstrate the potential dangers posed by drones at large-scale events, such as sports games, festivals, or concerts. These examples highlight that the threat can be genuine, whether it comes from nefarious intent or inexperienced drone operators who may unintentionally cause harm or disrupt an event.

Communicating with Fans

Educating fans about drone-related risks and potential disruptions is also an important aspect of stadium security. One way to communicate with fans is by using scoreboard messaging to inform them of any planned and approved drone flights during an event. This approach ensures that fans are aware of the drone’s presence and do not panic or become unnecessarily alarmed.

As stadiums increasingly use drones for various purposes, such as marketing or operational tasks, it becomes even more critical to keep fans informed and aware of their presence. By clearly communicating the intended use of drones and the precautions taken to ensure their safe operation, stadium security teams can effectively manage fan expectations and maintain a secure and enjoyable atmosphere for all attendees.

Staying Informed on Drone Security Technologies and Trends

Stadium security teams must stay informed about the latest drone security technologies and trends to effectively manage the potential risks associated with their use. This proactive approach can be achieved through various means.

Regular Research on New Developments

Security teams should dedicate time to researching new developments in the drone industry. This includes keeping up-to-date with new drone models, modifications, and technological advancements that may affect the landscape. By staying informed about the latest innovations, security teams can better anticipate potential threats and develop appropriate countermeasures.

Attending Conferences and Workshops

Participating in conferences and workshops focused on drone mitigation and detection allows stadium security teams to learn about cutting-edge technologies and strategies. These events provide opportunities to hear from experts in the field, engage in discussions, and explore potential solutions to drone-related security challenges.

Collaboration with Local Law Enforcement and Stakeholders

Establishing strong relationships with local law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders, such as government entities and industry organizations, can lead to valuable information sharing and collaboration. This partnership enables the exchange of knowledge, best practices, and resources, ultimately helping to improve overall stadium security.

Limitations of Current Technologies and the Need for Improvement

Detection Challenges

Current drone detection technologies often have limitations that hinder their effectiveness. For instance, one-level detection may not capture all relevant information about a drone’s location, altitude, or operator. This can leave security teams with incomplete data, making it more difficult to assess and address potential threats. To overcome these challenges, new and improved drone detection technologies must be developed to provide more accurate and comprehensive information about unauthorized drones in the area.

Geofencing Limitations

Geofencing is a common method of creating virtual boundaries around restricted areas to prevent unauthorized drone access. However, hackers and hobbyists can sometimes circumvent these systems, allowing drones to enter restricted zones undetected. This poses a significant security risk, as it becomes difficult to locate and identify unauthorized drones in the area.

There is a need for more robust geofencing systems that are resistant to hacking and other attempts to bypass established boundaries. Enhanced geofencing technology would help stadium security teams better track modified drones and their operators, even when attempts are made to obscure their presence. Investing in these advanced technologies will ultimately contribute to a safer and more secure environment for stadium visitors and staff.

Importance of Legislation and Regulation

As drones become increasingly prevalent in various industries and recreational activities, it is crucial to establish effective legislation and regulation to ensure their safe and responsible use. This section explores the role of legislation and regulation in drone security, the need for proper documentation and registration, and the importance of balancing the benefits of drones with potential risks and threats.

The Role of Legislation and Regulation in Drone Security

Legislation and regulation play a pivotal role in maintaining drone security, as they establish the legal framework and guidelines that govern drone usage. These rules aim to protect the public and infrastructure from potential harm caused by drones while also preserving individual privacy and property rights. By enforcing strict regulations, authorities can minimize the risks associated with unauthorized or malicious drone activities and ensure that all drone operators adhere to the established safety standards.

Limitations in Current Legislation

Despite the importance of legislation in drone security, there are limitations in current regulations that hinder the ability of security teams to effectively counter drone threats. As DeAngelis mentions, current legislation allows security personnel to only detect, report, and investigate drone activities, without the legal authority to actively mitigate or neutralize potential threats.

This limitation prevents organizations like stadium security teams from taking proactive measures, such as disabling or bringing down unauthorized drones or jamming their communication signals. As a result, security teams are forced to rely on law enforcement and other external agencies to respond to drone incidents, which can be time-consuming and less effective in mitigating immediate threats.

The Need for Updated Legislation

To address these limitations, there is a need for updated legislation that empowers security teams to take more direct action against unauthorized drone activities. By granting organizations the legal authority to employ counter-drone technologies and mitigation strategies, legislation can significantly enhance their ability to protect people and property from drone-related threats.

Such legislation should be carefully crafted to strike a balance between granting necessary powers to security teams and preserving the rights of responsible drone operators. This may include establishing clear guidelines on when and how counter-drone measures can be employed and ensuring that these powers are used proportionately and only when necessary to protect public safety and critical infrastructure.

Proper Documentation and Registration of Drones

One of the key aspects of effective drone regulation is the proper documentation and registration of drones and their operators. By requiring drone users to register their devices and obtain the necessary certifications or licenses, authorities can maintain better oversight of drone activities and hold operators accountable for their actions.

Furthermore, proper registration can aid in the development of a system that identifies authorized drone flights and distinguishes them from unauthorized or malicious activities. This would enable security teams to quickly assess potential threats and take appropriate action in response to unauthorized drone activities in restricted areas.

Balancing the Benefits of Drones with Potential Risks and Threats

Drones offer numerous benefits across various industries, such as aerial photography, surveying, and emergency response. However, their widespread use also presents potential risks and threats to public safety and infrastructure. Therefore, it is essential to strike a balance between harnessing the advantages of drones and mitigating the associated risks.

One way to achieve this balance is by continuously updating and refining drone regulations to address evolving technologies and potential threats. This includes enhancing geofencing systems, implementing drone detection and mitigation technologies, and promoting responsible drone usage through public education campaigns.

Moreover, a collaboration between drone manufacturers, regulators, and security professionals can foster the development of innovative solutions to address drone-related security challenges. This partnership can lead to safer drone designs, more effective countermeasures, and, ultimately, a more secure environment for all.

Spearheading a New Era of Drone Security

Drone security in large-scale events is a multifaceted challenge that requires a comprehensive approach encompassing staff education, continuous monitoring of emerging technologies, and the implementation of effective detection and mitigation strategies. Effective drone security also hinges on the development of robust legislation that strikes a balance between empowering security teams to counter threats and preserving the rights of responsible drone operators.

As drone technology becomes more prevalent, the importance of addressing these challenges will only grow. Ensuring the safety and security of large-scale events requires a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including organizations, law enforcement, and regulators. By working together, we can create a safer environment for everyone, allowing us to fully embrace the benefits of drone technology while mitigating the potential risks and threats it may pose.

Secure the Skies with Toffler

To discuss what drone security looks like for your organization, please contact me or schedule a meeting.

About the Authors

Will Swaim

Will, a Director at Toffler Associates, oversees the management and growth of the civilian market portfolio. In this capacity, Will helps leaders within national security, infrastructure, and other agencies plan for long term resiliency. He brings an understanding of foresight and futures and helps organizations think about how emerging technology, environmental and societal shifts, and the evolving threat landscape impact operational planning. Before joining TA, Will led operations and customer experience for a financial services association in Washington, DC, that advocated for better financial policies for American consumers and financial advisors. Will received three degrees from the University of Maryland: his M.B.A. from the Robert H. Smith School of Business, his M.P.P. from the School of Public Policy, and his B.A. in History and Communication. He additionally played on the University of Maryland’s men’s soccer team from 2007 to 2011, a tenure that included winning the NCAA Division I College Cup national championships in 2008.

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