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, it might damage people or property, or interfere with your day-to-day duties. So how should you respond? 

The knee jerk reaction 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 the destruction of any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.” Violation of this code carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. In other words, it’s illegal to shoot down any aircraft in the U.S., including a drone, according to federal law. 

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. Here are five things you can do today within the bounds of the law:

  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.