It has been twenty months since drones popped into the commercial consciousness, when two days of unauthorized drone activity grounded the world’s busiest single runway airport, Gatwick. The intervening period has revealed how challenging it is to reconcile conflicting market objectives with current law and regulation - allowing drone use to flourish within a framework that establishes permissible surveillance and threat mitigation for trespassing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). 

An important milestone was reached on April 13th when the Office of the U.S. Attorney General of the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memorandum: Guidance Regarding Department Activities to Protect Certain Facilities or Assets from Unmanned Aircraft and Unmanned Aircraft Systems. It outlines how to reconcile security considerations with aircraft safety and GPS/wireless service integrity. DOJ components can evaluate and seek approval to use sophisticated surveillance and mitigation capabilities. Unauthorized drones at federal prisons and special events, such as the NFL Super Bowl, now face the full weight of aligned law and regulation.  

This is a definition that applies narrowly to DOJ components, but does give the security industry a starting line in the race to secure critical infrastructure. 

Eventually, DHS and DOE will follow this lead and post guidance on counter-drone security, following the path defined by DOJ in April with the AG’s memorandum. They will create a mandated investment cycle in critical infrastructure security. It is reasonable to assume that ground-based critical infrastructure security systems will add airspace perimeter surveillance and threat interdiction within the coming few years. New design concepts, updated threat assessments, evaluations of complex sensors, software, and platforms, changes in processes and data retention policies, and many other activities will begin anew.

The question is, to whom will these customers turn? Will current commercial security providers invest in hiring new skill sets and creating new competencies to effectively sell and deploy 3D surveillance as enhancements to current ground-only VMS? Or will fully-equipped airspace surveillance and mitigation systems be sold and deployed as adjunct 3D security systems by new players, like Dedrone, Black Sage, and other native counter-UAS systems companies?

Airspace surveillance and mitigation, however, is no simple or straightforward task. Foundational airspace sensors, like radar, generate data in 3D (azimuth, elevation, range, and velocity) while video management systems typically understand only a 2D world (azimuth, range). The object metadata from high performance airspace sensors are much richer than current systems ingest. Slewing an optical sensor (eg, pan-tilt-zoom) camera for visual identification, almost certainly a requirement, requires very fast data rates from radar to camera, often too fast for the video management system (VMS) to handle. There are several mitigation options, each of which requires different training and skills. 

How can security integrators prepare for and take advantage of this new facet of critical infrastructure protection? Researching technologies, integrating new and complex sensors and software into a security solution, or creating training for advanced configuration and system monitoring capabilities are new skills that critical infrastructure customers will require. Security integrators need to catch the coming wave of investment in critical infrastructure airspace surveillance and security by investing now.