As drones grow, so do tools to take them down

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Psst. Want a hot stock tip? Think ECMs.

Suddenly drones are everywhere and not just the ones your kids keep crashing in the backyard.

Drones are buzzing over crowded public places and creating nightmares for law enforcement and private security personnel.

Days before Super Bowl LIII, the FBI reported that the sky above the Atlanta stadium was being “inundated with an alarming number of drones,” even though the airspace had been designated as no-fly zone.

More than alarmed

FBI agents at the Atlanta field office were more than alarmed: “When we look up into the air and see a drone flying in the air, we have no idea if it’s friendly, or if it’s someone who has nefarious plans and it’s weaponized,” FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said two days before the big game on Feb. 3, after law enforcement had confiscated half a dozen drones.

The Super Bowl incident came just weeks after drone spottings at two major airports caused flights to be canceled and air traffic controllers to scramble.

UAS, meet ECM

Andy Morabe believes we should be worried. Very worried. Morabe is director of sales and marketing for a company called IXI in Orange County, California. His company has devised an ECM (Electronic Counter Measure), otherwise known as the Drone Killer. Metatron Unmanned Solutions in Charleston wants to market it.

The drone industry is expanding, and anti-drone technology is trying to catch up. IXI’s device, the Drone Killer, which is a registered trademark, works differently than most jamming devices. It sends an electronic signal that interferes with the motherboard of the drone and either disables it or sends it back to its origin.

It is a relatively small handheld device that emits its disrupting electronic signal in a cone. A law enforcement agent can simply aim the device at a suspicious drone and fire.

Caught napping

When it comes to unmanned aerial systems, Morabe believes law enforcement has been caught napping. “Until last year only the Department of Defense, Secret Service and certain units of the FBI could operate such a device,” he said in an email. Morabe wants that to change.

He and others are pushing for an expanded use of electronic counter measures. “The best of all worlds would be to extend these permissions to local law enforcement SWAT teams and first responders,” he said.

He believes these groups are already well-trained in the use of firearms when it comes to shoot/no-shoot situations.

Of course, all this means changes to current state and federal legislation, but those wheels tend to turn very slowly. “In fall of last year,” Morabe said, “the FAA Re-Authorization Bill had verbiage in the Emerging Threats Act (drones) that extended the use of counter measures for all of Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy (protection of nuclear power plants and transportation of nuclear weapons).”

Who can kill a drone? These agencies are collecting information on various types of ECMs. But they also are just beginning to address the question of who should be able to handle devices like the Drone Killer and what the rules of engagement should be.

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, governs the use of drones in all 50 states:

If you operate a drone as a hobby, you are governed under the model airplane segment of the FAA rules. To be a drone hobbyist one must:

Register the drone or UAS with the FAA. (The FAA provides an online site for this.)

Fly for hobby or recreational purposes only.

Follow a community-based set of safety guidelines.

Fly your drone within visual line-of-sight.

Give way to manned aircraft.

Provide prior notification to the airport and air traffic control tower, if one is present, when flying within 5 miles of an airport.

Fly a drone or UAS that weighs no more than 55 pounds unless certified by a community-based organization

To operate a drone for commercial purposes (non-modeler) one must:

Register the drone or UAS with the FAA as a “non-modeler.”

Obtain an FAA Remote Pilot Certificate or 107 Pilot license.

Follow the operational requirements for UASs, which are listed in a 3-page document on the FAA website at www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf.

However, new developments in the use of drones are causing states to look at more regulation. According to a September 2018 post on the National Conference of State Legislatures website, “So far, 41 states have enacted laws addressing UAS and an additional three states have adopted resolutions.”

West Virginia has enacted two: House Bill 2515 enacted in 2015 prohibits hunting with drones.

HB 4607 was passed last year and requires drone operators to obtain permission from the state park superintendent to fly in any of West Virginia’s state parks.

One development that has state agencies worried is the practice of using drones to drop drugs and other contraband into prison yards. States are looking at legislation to give law enforcement greater latitude to use ECMs for public safety.

Article courtesy of West Virginia Gazette. Read the article here

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