Drone Crashes at White House

 Physical Security Challenges with Respect to Small Drones

White House Drone

A new challenge is emerging for physical security professionals.  Small drones are being sold by many manufactures that are in a variety of sizes with a large range of performance.  These devices allow the operator to fly over any location at very high or low altitudes.  Today at 3:08 am a two foot “quad-copter” drone crashed on the South Grounds of the White House.  An investigation was initiated to determine the origin of this commercially available device, motive, and to identify suspects.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/01/26/faa-drones/22342517/ 


The small drone is called a “quad-copter” because it is lifted by four propellers similar to ones shown below.

Examples of Drones

Examples of Small Quad-Copter Drones


There are many safety and security concerns around these types of drones flying in both public and private airspace.  Congress ordered the FAA in 2012 to develop rules for commercial drones, which range from a few ounces to as big as an airliner.  Currently commercial drones are largely prohibited, although the FAA has granted 16 permits out of 295 applications for purposes such as movie-making and smokestack inspections.  The final policy for commercial drones is expected in September.  The FAA prohibits aircraft over the White House, congressional buildings, the National Mall for security and other reasons associated with the national welfare.

The FAA’s latest proposal for small commercial drones weighing up to 55 pounds, such as a real-estate agent might use to film a property, is scheduled to be released within the next few weeks.  The FAA restated its rules for hobbyists in June, which include avoiding manned aircraft, flying within sight of the remote pilot, staying below 400 feet in the air and notifying air-traffic control towers if flying within five miles of an airport.

The challenge for security professionals is dealing with those who intend to violate the FAA rules and fly these small drones with the intent to do harm.  This type of criminal activity could range from using onboard video to gather private information, proprietary data, and images of security personnel movements, up to bringing dangerous packages to a particular location.  For all of these threats, the question is how will these drones be detected doing these unauthorized activities and what is the appropriated response to prevent them from completing their task of spying or creating damage.

There will need to be investments in research and development to determine what technologies, people, and procedures that will be required to develop an effective security system to interrupt and neutralize these drones.  As has been demonstrated by individuals who shine lasers into the cockpit of commercial airlines, FAA regulations will not stop criminals from performing the illegal act.  It is currently illegal to fly any aircraft over the White House and yet the event has already happened.  Security systems will be needed to deal with that fact.

As usual, as technology continues to evolve, so must the security industry to deal with the security challenges created by this evolution.  The cost of small drones and the ease to fly them into restricted areas makes this scenario one that will be common place in the very near future.  The need for a cost effective solution to this immerging threat will only increase over time.  If one is not developed soon, there could be serious consequences for both the public and private sector.




About the Author
Basil Steele - After 36 years of service, he retired from Sandia National Laboratories as the Deputy Director for the Weapon and Force Protection Center in December 2011. At Sandia National Laboratories Basil served as a manager for video assessment technology in the security systems area and in 1986 was promoted to department manager of the Intrusion Detection Systems Technology division, which included exterior sensors, interior sensors, video technology, image processing, and control and display systems. In 1996, he became Program Manager for the Department of Energy Security Program. His business areas included the Department of Energy’s security programs, private industry, and other federal agencies. Four years later in 2000, he was promoted to a Sr. Manager. In 2001 Basil became the Sr. Manager for the Department of Defense Weapons Security Program Office which included all DoD physical security projects and DP funded R&D. He was promoted to Deputy Director in 2011.

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