As FTI continues to hone in on the world of drone-related business and policy, we’ve cherry picked some interesting snapshots from the previous week with our thoughts on their implications.
FTI’s TMT team routinely analyzes and evaluates conversation and events in the nascent drone space, posting content we hope will prove to be a valuable resource on UAV information that connect the dots between technology, policy and business.
In this report we look at some of the drone news impacting people’s safety and overall UAV security.
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | On July 29 at Mansfield Correctional Institution, about 105 kilometers southwest of Cleveland, a drone dropped a package of drugs into a prison yard while inmates were outside, sparking a fight, prison officials said. According to the department, video footage showed the drone over recreation yards immediately before a fight began. An investigation determined the drone dropped a package intended for an inmate on the north recreation yard, and it was then thrown over a fence to the south recreation yard.
While this kind of news is rare, it has sensationalist value and can act as a negative anchor in people’s minds about drone potential. While incidents like these underscore the need for drones to get better geo-fencing features (both from a hardware and software perspective), it also highlights the importance in good communications which could be employed either by the prison or the drone industry to alleviate public concern over these types of incidents.
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | During the weekend of July 31, the U.S. began flying armed drones from an airbase in Turkey in its fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said August 3rd. Previously the U.S. had only flown unarmed drone missions from the Incirlik base in southern Turkey, near the border of Syria. The armed flights were a result of an agreement between the U.S. and Turkey, as Turkey began to increase its efforts against ISIS.
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | Sensitive sites across the U.S. are vulnerable to attack by store-bought drones, according to a new assessment by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office in charge of sharing threat information with first-line personnel. The DHS “intelligence assessment” does not cite any actual or known drone-related threats within the U.S. homeland, but it cites several recent instances overseas when terrorist groups and criminal organizations used drones “to support illicit or violent activities.”
The co-opting of drones by terrorists, and messaging around drone attacks is, again, somewhat damaging to the drone industry as a whole, because it promotes fearmongering which in turn puts roadblocks in the way of pushing forward legislation and regulation to enable better use of drones. This, again, is a communications problem which needs to be addressed by the industry, to reassure the public that safety measures are being put in place to protect them, while not hindering progress.
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | The increasing availability of drones is all but certain to cause an airplane accident, in part because it’s difficult to catch people in the act of flying the small unmanned devices, CBS News aviation and safety expert Chesley Sullenberger said on August 1st. Mr. Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a jetliner safely on the Hudson River in New York City in 2011 is predicting that nonmilitary drones will cause plane crashes as they become more prevalent in commercial airspace. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of unmanned aircraft flying near commercial planes, and in some cases, pilots have had to alter their courses to avoid a collision.
There have been recent developments with drone technology at the state level:
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | California authorities launched a National Guard Reaper drone on July 29 to search for a missing motorcyclist, the first time the National Guard has used one of its highly sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles in this country for a search-and-rescue mission. The drone’s use highlights the growing conflict with UAVs: While authorities value their ability when properly used, hobbyists using small, commercially available drones have caused problems in public spaces, particularly interfering with aerial firefighters in California.
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY| In the Chicago area, drones might be banned within five miles of O’Hare and Midway airports, and operators would be required to register their drones and carry insurance, under an aldermanic crackdown proposed on July 29 to protect privacy and public safety. Instead of a citywide moratorium, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) drew a five-mile ring around O’Hare and Midway. Drones would be forbidden within that restricted airspace as well as within one-quarter mile of a school, hospital, open-air stadium or place of worship. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he needs to study the drone ordinance before weighing in on it.
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | San Bernardino County supervisors unanimously agreed on July 28 to offer $75,000 in rewards for help in tracking down drone operators who interfered with firefighters during three major wildfires this summer. After the unmanned devices were spotted flying above flames and smoke from the blazes this year — which altogether burned about 36,000 acres — fire crews were forced to ground water-dropping aircraft. Officials said the delays allowed the fires to spread, resulting in devastating property losses.
There have been recent developments with drone technology at the federal level:
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | Mistakes caused the U.S. Secret Service and other federal agencies to fail to stop a Florida man from flying a gyrocopter over some of the protected air space in America before landing near the U.S. Capitol, an August 5 Senate report found. The Senate Homeland Security Committee report said the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police didn’t do enough to investigate the plans of the pilot, Doug Hughes, which were known as early as 2013. Such agencies responsible for overseeing the restricted airspace had communication breakdowns.
PUBLIC SAFETY/SECURITY | The U.S. Forest Service has begun a messaging battle against a threat Smokey Bear could never have imagined: hobby drones getting in the way of fighting wildfires. Thanks to a raft of drones buzzing around wildfires in California, the Forest Service’s “If You Fly, We Can’t” slogan with matching World War-II style poster has been spreading like wildfire on social media. The campaign recently reminded UAS users to respect wildfire operations. The National Interagency Fire Center also posted a video warning for users to, “Be Smart. Be Safe. Stay Away.”