The new drone deterrent system can quickly identify and locate drones interfering with firefighting operations.
As firefighters in California battle wildfires that threaten wilderness, homes and business, they’re also trying to manage interference from unauthorized drones.
Fixed-wing aircraft are frequently deployed to drop water and fire retardant on wildfires but firefighting efforts are immediately grounded if a drone flies into the emergency response zone. Rogue or unknown drones could pose threats to personnel and equipment.
In 2019, at least 20 unauthorized drone flights over or near wildfires in seven states resulted in aerial firefighting operations being temporarily shut down, according to the Forest Service.
“It’s a mandatory stop operations when we see drones operating in our emergency locations,” Capt. David Laub of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said in a CNN video. “We don’t know what the operator is going to do, so the potential damage to our helicopters or fixed wing aircraft is extensive.”
Now, a new drone deterrent program developed through a partnership between the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the FBI’s Los Angeles field office can identify and locate offending drones in about 30 seconds, according to a CNN report.
"When the detection equipment finds the drone and identifies the operator's location, we can very rapidly get that information to a ground intercept team who can then go make contact with that drone operator and essentially get them to stop flying that drone," James Peaco III, the weapons of mass destruction coordinator for the FBI's Los Angeles field office, told CNN.
With the new system, officials can set up an alert that lets them know if a drone flies into restricted space, reporting the elevation, direction and speed of the drone as well as where the operator is standing. When notified of an incursion, teams track down the operator and explain that “flying that drone during a wildland fire is actually a federal felony," Peaco said. Rogue drone operators are clueless, careless or criminal, he said, adding that most comply immediately.
Los Angeles County Fire and the FBI are building out this drone deterrence model and plan to expand their collaborative partnership in Southern California and beyond.
Laub and Peaco began working on this unique program before the pandemic hit. "We developed this from the ground level. We literally had nothing to go from," Laub said. "There's no one else in the U.S. that's been doing it this way."