A chilling hush descended over the Ohio State-Maryland college football game when a drone was spotted ominously hovering above. With the safety of players and spectators at stake, officials took immediate action, pausing the game and evacuating the field. Fortunately, the Drone Incident ended without catastrophe, as the device left and its operator was arrested. He claimed he had simply lost control of his newly purchased drone, according to NBC News. However, this event wasn't isolated, marking the latest in a series of drone-related concerns over stadiums.
A Security Vulnerability Exposed
This incident has cast a light on an alarming security flaw, which has left the likes of the NFL, other major sports leagues, and Congress members deeply unsettled. The potential for drones to be weaponized and cause significant harm is no longer a hypothetical situation.
“We're concerned about somebody who would use (drones) in a nefarious way and drop a grenade that would do considerable damage and possibly kill individuals,” voiced Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.
Despite the extensive security measures surrounding stadiums, a drone's ability to fly overhead virtually unchallenged presents a significant security gap. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are the sole authorities capable of intercepting these rogue drones. Yet, their resources are stretched thin, only ensuring drone security for major events like the Super Bowl.
A Cry for Help
The NFL's Chief of Security, Cathy Lanier, emphasized the severity of the situation, highlighting that there had been an overwhelming 121,000 requests for drone mitigation since 2018. Shockingly, only 77 of these were approved. And, if that's not worrisome enough, this authority is at risk of expiration by November 17.
Lanier reveals, “They enter that restricted airspace, they are violating the law. All we're asking for is the ability to take control of that drone and move it out of our airspace.”
Lanier further underscored the escalation in drone incidents, noting a jump from 1,300 to 2,500 incursions over NFL stadiums within a year. These aren't just minor disruptions either. In 2018, a drone even dropped leaflets over NFL games in California.
“That could have been anything,” Lanier remarked.
The Tangible Danger
It's not merely the risk of Weaponized drones that raises alarms. The mere sight of a drone could spark panic in a crowded stadium. A hasty evacuation could lead to injuries or even fatalities. “We have 70,000 people in these stadiums and arenas,” Lanier mentioned. Introducing panic to such a packed venue poses significant risks.
In 2017, spectators at a MLB game in San Diego experienced a near miss, as a drone crashed inches away from an audience member. Another alarming instance occurred during the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta when a drone was spotted just moments before an Air Force flyover.
The Broader Issue
The threat isn't exclusive to sports venues. Almost 2,000 drone sightings were reported near US airports since 2021, revealing an underlying nationwide security concern. Sen. Peters even noted the increasing use of drones by drug cartels to transport narcotics across borders.
“A wall doesn't stop a drone from flying over with narcotics,” he pointed out.
Drone Incidents: A Call for Action
As technological advancements surge ahead, the gap between policy and reality is widening. Lanier concludes with a pressing call to action: “We've got to stop kicking the can down the road. Policy is not keeping pace with technology, and that's a problem.”
The drone incident at Ohio has thrown into stark relief the pressing need for stricter regulations and enhanced security measures to prevent potential tragedies.
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