From 5 ways LE can prepare for a drone attack

Your plans should revolve around identifying and locating the operator of any drone flying in restricted airspace

The August 4 assassination attempt of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has brought the attention of the world to a problem the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of forward-looking security companies have been discussing for a while – the potential for a drone-based attack in the United States. Maduro was delivering a speech at an event celebrating the country’s national guard when two drones carrying plastic explosives exploded nearby.

While the threats from UAVs are not new, they have not yet been prevalent in the domestic US.  Our military personnel have been under siege from UAV attacks for years.  COTS (Consumer off the Shelf) drones are modified to carry and drop IEDs on our military almost daily.  The DoD has recently issued multiple RFPs seeking ways to counter UAV attacks overseas.  They are throwing millions of dollars at the problem and still don’t have a firm solution. 

On August 4, 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivered a speech at an event celebrating the country’s national guard when two drones carrying plastic explosives exploded nearby. (Venezolana de Television via AP)

On August 4, 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivered a speech at an event celebrating the country’s national guard when two drones carrying plastic explosives exploded nearby. (Venezolana de Television via AP)

Just a few minutes on the internet will show you the amount of planning and effort the “bad guys” put into executing their plans.  But what are we doing here, in the continental United States, where you are responsible for providing the security and safety of your citizens? What is your counter-UAV Ops Plan?

Preparing to respond to a drone attack

Terror attacks have been part of the national conversation since September 11, 2001. As a member of law enforcement who served at Ground Zero, I can assure you they have been part of my daily thoughts since that time. The good news is that when it comes to drone-based terror threats, there are many ways law enforcement officers, officials and others charged with maintaining public safety can prepare for and mitigate this threat.

Here are five things you can do right now:

1. Read the regulations.

Become familiar with current FAA regulations in regard to aircraft since drones — both fixed-wing and rotor-type — are classified as aircraft.  Research your local airspace restrictions in the B4UFLY app, which is available for most smart phones. This app also alerts you to any temporary restrictions in your airspace, helping you identify legal drones versus those flying where they shouldn’t be.

2. Spot the difference.

Learn the difference between hobbyist and commercial drone operation, and the regulations drone pilots must comply with. Neither hobbyist or commercial drones can fly over people, beyond visual line of sight, at night or above 400 feet.

3. Take the threat seriously. 

Most accredited agencies have a standard operating procedure (SOP) for everything — including when to wear your cover and when meal breaks can be taken. Why should protocol for sighting a drone be any different? Know what steps to take in order to classify the drone operation you’ve sighted as legal or illegal and know what to do next if the operation isn’t in line with the rules.

4. Get UAS and Counter-UAS training.

Everyone should be on the same page when it comes to operating your own drones and handling unwanted or illegal drones. Work with local officials to plan accordingly and solicit training and guidance from experts in the field of Counter-UAS on how best mitigate a potential drone attack.  Currently, there are several counter-UAS technologies being tested and developed, but none are legal in the United States if they interfere with flight or operations of the drone (see number one – since drones are considered “aircraft,” it is unlawful to interfere with or disable one.) That said, when public safety is at risk, your department may be willing to accept the legal implications of disabling a drone. That decision will be made by each department, and maybe ultimately regulated nationally. In the meantime, drones are not actually the problem—operators are the problem. Your plans should revolve around identifying and locating the operator of any drone flying in a place it shouldn’t be, and those plans should follow a use-of-force continuum as you move toward disabling or destroying a threatening drone. If you do select a C-UAS technology or combination of technologies, remember that a box is just a box. To operate the box effectively, training and practice are still the key.

5. Practice like you play.

Treat counter-UAS as you do every other threat you face.  Don’t just settle on your SOP and call it a day. Practice employing your SOP, adjust what didn’t work and try it again until you succeed in creating a true plan that will prepare you for the real thing. Make sure your perimeter security personnel know what to look for and what to do when they see it. Investigate, test and deploy Counter-UAS technologies and use a “red” squadron of aggressor UAVs to test your officers’ skills and responses.  Then correct any deficiencies and test them again. 


It is essential that law enforcement agencies learn what drones are capable of and what their limitations are. There is no doubt that UAS-borne threats are real and imminent. Prepare today to defend against this threat tomorrow.

About the Author

Tom Switick is a retired NJ Police Lieutenant and Deputy OEM Coordinator.  He was part of the response at Ground Zero on 9/11 and has an extensive background in Fire and EMS.  Tom is part owner of redUAS, LLC a company focused on providing Counter-UAS training, tactics and services.

redUAS Counter-UAS Experts Selected to Participate in the DHS Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council UAS Security Working Group

redUAS was selected to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) UAS Security Working Group. The CIPAC is aligned with and supports the implementation of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan 2013: Partnering for Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience and Presidential Policy Directive 21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience to provide a forum in which the government and private sector entities, organized as coordinating councils, can jointly engage in a broad spectrum of activities to support and collaborate critical infrastructure security and resilience efforts.

redUAS Oversees Drone Security at World’s Largest Boat Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

On-Site UAS Operators Keep Watch over 1500 Boats, 105,000 Visitors; and Perform More than 20 Intruder Drone Intercepts at 2017 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show


redUAS was tapped by security providers at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show to keep the skies over the show safe and free of unauthorized or malicious drones.

In an environment where drones are proliferating and many hobbyist operators fly without awareness of FAA rules and airspace regulations, trade show and event operators face increasing security risks from above. Security organizers at the FLIBS brought in redUAS to provide an additional layer of security, aware that an outdoor venue covering six miles of floating docs and containing assets worth roughly $4 billion would be a target for curious hobbyists or non-paying visitors looking to capture interesting aerial footage.

“It’s easy to throw a camera-equipped drone in the air today,” Chris Sacco, Managing Partner of redUAS noted. “And there’s a general lack of education and awareness of the rules, so many hobbyists don’t know that the airspace around the show is restricted, that they can’t legally operate overhead, or that drones can’t be legally operated beyond the operator’s line of sight. redUAS operated from rooftops and on the ground to identify and locate intruder drones and their operators, coordinating with local law enforcement and show management to keep the show, crowd and assets safe.”

redUAS utilized a combination of cutting-edge technologies and military-based tactics, techniques, and procedures to keep the skies, boats and visitors safe at the world’s largest boat show in Fort Lauderdale from November 1-5.

 “Domestic counter UAS is a quickly evolving arena,” Sacco noted. “Though many companies advertise jamming, nets and other kinetic means of countering the malicious use of drones, none of those tactics are legal under current FAA regulations concerning unmanned aircraft. redUAS is the only service provider offering event organizers a safe and effective method of dealing with intruder UAS in concert with local law enforcement.”

The redUAS team was directly integrated with the on-site security in place at the show, and drone operators worked directly with local law enforcement, FBI, and show security to monitor, detect, identify—and in some cases, prosecute—intruder drones flying over the boat show illegally. “Our team successfully passed location information and maintained visual contact with the intruding drones until they either landed or went out of observable range. We were able to pass position information to our LE/FBI partners here, and they went and knocked on doors and broke the bad news to the offenders.”

UAS awareness and security planning is a new frontier for many event planners. redUAS works with organizers well ahead of event execution, orchestrating an awareness campaign to inform locals and attendees of drone regulations affecting the event. They are on-site, integrating their video feeds into the event command centers, and providing actionable information for law enforcement to pursue, and they provide a comprehensive post-show wrap up, highlighting areas for potential improvement at future events.

Before You Pull the Trigger: The Legal Implications of Shooting Down a Drone

by Chris Sacco


Featured in Security Magazine

February 13, 2018

It’s a scenario that isn’t hard for security professionals to imagine:  Someone spots a drone hovering inside your secure facility’s perimeter, over your event, or during your emergency response operation. The drone’s presence is at best a nuisance, and at worst, might damage people or property, or interfere with your principle mission. What options do you have?

The kneejerk response from most is, “shoot it down.” But that’s where things get complicated. There is no shortage of counter-UAS technology on the market, should you want to look for something beyond the old-fashioned shotgun, but the question of legality should be considered well before you take aim.

The FAA considers unmanned aircraft of any size to be covered under Title 18 of the United States Code 32, which describes “sabotage to include destruction of any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.” Violation of this code carries a maximum prison sentence of twenty years. In other words, it’s illegal to shoot down any aircraft in the US, including a drone, according to federal law. And lest you decide that simply jamming or intercepting control of the offending drone might be more your style, know that the FCC considers any form of “jamming” or otherwise interfering with radio transmission to be a violation of the Communications Act of 1934. Between these two federal laws, most anti-drone technology on the market (including net guns and jamming guns) could put you into some legal hot water.

This leaves little wiggle room for local law enforcement, first responders, and security pros when trying to mitigate the potential threat posed by an intruding drone. In a few states, such as Louisiana and Utah, police and firefighters have been granted local authority to disable drones flying over wildfires or endangering the public, but those who act on the basis of these state laws still find themselves in direct conflict with federal regulations.

There is certainly momentum toward a more unified regulatory environment that will allow law enforcement to act in reasonable ways to protect people and property, but until regulation catches up with technology, the best solution to combat an unwanted drone is a mix of prevention and employment of well-planned techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs if you’re in the military). Here are five things you can do today within the bounds of the law:

  1. Raise awareness about “no-drone” zones that may exist around facilities or events. Signage explicitly stating restrictions will make a negligent hobbyist less likely to fly where they shouldn’t, and clearly stated restrictions might make any anti-drone actions more defensible in the eyes of the law.
  2. Include active monitoring for UAS in security plans. If cameras or personnel are already monitoring perimeters, entrances or sensitive points, add awareness of airspace to the mix. The first step in mitigation of potential malicious drones is detection.
  3. Work with a company capable of identifying and/or classifying any drones spotted in your airspace. Though radio waves cannot be legally used to down a drone, it is admissible to scan an aircraft to determine its intent. Databases exist that can categorize hobbyist versus commercial models, and, if a drone is registered, ownership can potentially be traced.
  4. Employ counter-UAS drones. This might sound counterintuitive, but military squadrons often defend airspace by flying defensive tactics that do not include firing weapons, and there are companies offering similar capabilities with drones. These “friendly” drones can detect and ID intruding UAS from the air, and can help locate operators by tracking intruding drones back to a landing point. At that point, a handoff with local law enforcement is possible.
  5. Plan with local law enforcement for worst-case scenario contingencies. There may be a case where authorities are willing to risk legal complications to preserve people or property, and a plan must be in place prior to an incident, so you’ll know what to do if and when disabling an intruding drone is absolutely required.

Because regulations are evolving and differ by locality, take the time to learn what laws apply in your specific locale. Until regulations catch up with UAS technology, providing security that includes a counter-drone plan can feel a little like policing the wild west. Smart planning and partnership with the right counter-UAS partners or technologies for you can keep your property and people safe.