Anyone who has ever been to a stadium to watch a football match or their favourite band must have wondered what would happen if there was a sudden cause for panic.
For a stadium manager, this is a nightmare scenario which keeps them awake at night. There is an endless list of situations which could cause mass panic, from fireworks or flares being set off in the stands, to a serious terrorist incident or fire. Fortunately for stadium goers, most of these scenarios have been rehearsed and mitigation strategies have been developed to prevent them.
But now there is another threat to worry about, one that is much harder to mitigate against and which could happen at any time. The threat of a rogue drone being accidentally or deliberately flown into the crowd. This is no longer the stuff of science fiction, one only needs to look at the recent attack in Venezuela to see the potential panic even a relatively small device would create.
Rogue drones can create panic
Such incidents have already occurred. Nigel Wilson of Bingham in Nottingham was one of the first people to be prosecuted in the UK for flying a drone over a congested area. Bingham was caught after he uploaded footage to YouTube showing off his flights over a number of Premier League matches and famous London landmarks.
Wilson was warned several times by police, before being arrested on October 18th, 2014, for flying a drone over the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. He was subsequently bailed by police to enable them to carry out further enquiries. But when he returned on bail in January 2015 he was arrested again by Metropolitan Police who were investigating rogue drone flights in the London area.
Incidents such as these may seem trivial, but as the judge in Wilson's case pointed out, it would only take a gust of wind for the drone to crash into a heavily populated area causing injury and panic.
Match disruption is also a concern
Stadium managers don’t just have to worry about drones being flown carelessly. Some people may have a reason to deliberately disrupt the play.
Betting on football matches is a multi-billion pound business. It is estimated that up to €1 billion (£900 million) is bet on each Premier League match around the world. With money like that at stake, it is easy to see why it would be advantageous to disrupt a match by flying a drone onto the pitch at a critical moment.
In January 2018 a match between Yeovil Town and Crawley had to be postponed for 11 minutes when a rogue drone entered the stadium. Correct protocols were followed during the incident with the referee stopping play and removing the players from the pitch while security staff carried out an investigation.
In this case, the drone quickly disappeared once it was spotted and the game got back underway. But the incident highlights the disruption a rogue drone can cause, even if it is only being flown by an over-enthusiastic hobbyist.
What the law says
A number of laws already exist to prevent such irresponsible drone flying. Private operators of UAVs must not fly them within 150 metres of a congested area or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly which contains more than 1,000 people. They also cannot fly a drone within 50 metres of any vehicle or structure which is not under their control.
Pilots must also maintain visual contact with the drone at all times during the flight to prevent collisions with people or buildings. Failure to abide by these rules could land you in court. As it did with Wilson, who was handed a £1,800 fine and had his drones confiscated for his troubles.
Commercial operators have to abide by much more stringent regulations. All companies wishing to conduct drone flights for commercial purposes need permission from the CAA. The so-called Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) requires the operator to complete a flight assessment and operations manual which dictates how they intend to use the devices.
Laws unlikely to stop determined criminals
While current laws are enough to stop casual users and hobbyists from flying their drones into crowded areas, they are unlikely to stop determined criminals or terrorists from attempting to use drones to cause harm or financial gain.
Stadium owners and event managers, therefore, have a responsibility to ensure that the public is protected from such actions. While the threat of a terrorist incident or other rogue action can never be eliminated there a number of things stadium owners can do to mitigate the risk.
Drone detection systems have can help
Drone detection systems or Anti UAV devices can monitor the airspace surrounding the stadium to warn organisers of the approach of an unauthorised drone. A system such as DJI AeroScope can give organisers a 360-degree view of the area surrounding the stadium to monitor suspicious drone activity inside it.
AeroScope gives operators access to flight information including location, speed and direction of travel. The location of the ground controller is also identified, allowing security staff to visit the location to speak with the pilot directly. The serial number of the device is also recorded which can be used to identify persistent offenders.
The system can be deployed as a fixed or portable solution depending on the type of facility you need to protect. The fixed solution can detect an area up to 20 km, depending on terrain and weather conditions, while the portable solution can monitor an area up to 4 km.
This gives operators the flexibility to deploy the right system for their needs. A large stadium, for example, would benefit from the fixed solution which provides the greatest range and allows data to be fed directly to the incident room of the stadium. On the other hand, festivals or temporary stadiums can be protected by the mobile solution.
If you would like more information about AeroScope or other drone mitigation systems, get in touch with the drone mitigation specialists at Coptrz. We can arrange a demonstration of AeroScope to show how the system works and how it can be integrated into other security systems you have on site. Give Coptrz a call today on 0330 111 7177.