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Potential Threats From Commercial Drones Addressed by New Legislation

Legislation designed to address potential threats that are posed by small- and medium-sized commercial drones was introduced Thursday by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee.

“Drones have the potential for so much good, but like most technology, there’s significant risk that they will be used for harm,” Coleman said. And that’s what her proposed bill, the Homeland Security Drone Assessment and Analysis Act (HR 1646), would address.

Coleman said, “This bill addresses the need for security policies for drones, and coordination with state and local law enforcement to ensure we’re prepared for, and ideally able to prevent, an attack by a commercially available drone.”

“On January 27,” Coleman noted, “a small drone landed on the grounds of the White House, and more recently, drones were observed flying over sensitive assets in France, including nuclear instillations, the home of the French President and near the United States Embassy. Incidents like these demonstrate the risk posed by these devices and should add urgency to our response.”

“For far too long, [the] Department of Homeland Security [DHS] has ‎failed to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the security threat small and medium-sized drones pose,” said full committee ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss).

He applauded Coleman for authoring legislation requiring DHS to do just that.

“I trust committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) will see the wisdom of moving the bill through the committee so that this emerging potential threat is addressed,” Thompson said.

The Homeland Security Drone Assessment and Analysis Act would require DHS to:

  • Research how commercially available small and medium-sized drones could be used to perpetrate an attack;
  • Take the lead as the federal department responsible for developing policies, guidance and protocols to prevent an attack perpetrated with a small or medium-sized drone;
  • Disseminate information to state, local and tribal law enforcement officials regarding how to respond to potential threats from these drones, and;
  • Conduct an assessment of the security threat associated with the commercial availability of drones.

Homeland Security Today first exclusively reported that DHS’s Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate is testing a wide variety of small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) sensor platforms for their safety and reliability, including one that can determine whether individuals are armed or unarmed. They are evaluating whether they are suitability for use by first responders and frontline homeland security professionals.

S&T’s Borders and Maritime Security Division’s Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (RAPS) testing program is being conducted in Oklahoma in conjunction with the University of Oklahoma.

As the RAPS program plan obtained by Homeland Security Today stated, the initiative involves testing sensor suites as part of testing small drones “using key performance measures in a variety of simulated but realistic, real-world operational scenarios that focus on the use of SUAS technology in response to situations where human lives are in imminent danger.”

RAPS is designed to “enhance the search and rescue capabilities of first responders by increasing [their] situational awareness.” SUAS sensors, forexample, are being tested for their ability to “locate and provide the position of targets of interest satisfactorily for search and rescue personnel in a variety of terrain and day conditions.”

Editor’s note: Also read the Homeland Security Today report, Drones: Force Multipliers for Law Enforcement, Other First Responders, and our special report, Eyes in the Sky, in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Homeland Security Today. We examine the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles’ vulnerability to hacking and their use by Islamist jihadists; explore the threat UAVs pose to critical infrastructure; and an update on domestic UAV usage rulemaking by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Drones at Risk to GPS Spoofing and Hacking

Jihadists Find Drones of Strategic Cyber Importance

Soaring to Risky New Heights: UAVs Buzz World’s Critical Infrastructures

Defending Drones Against Cyber Attacks

He Who Hesitates is Last: An Update on Federal Drone Rulemaking

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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