Taking Flight: Why Universities Need Drone Intelligence and Detection Monitoring

Taking Flight: Why Universities Need Drone Intelligence and Detection Monitoring

April 9th, 2024

Universities and colleges are bustling hubs of innovation, education, and research. But with open campuses and growing drone use, these institutions face a new challenge: ensuring safety and security from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

When not used for authorized purposes, it is easy to assume that the rogue UAS flying around is being used by a hobbyist or a student innocently playing with a new toy. But that isn’t always the case, as people have found ways to use the technology for alternative—and sometimes malicious—purposes.

College stadiums have been the target of numerous drone incursions in recent years. These incursions threaten fan and player safety and disrupt public events, as they have across prisons, airports and other open public spaces. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has specific rules for where to fly personal and commercial drones, which prohibit flights over crowded areas, roads, airports and other areas. The demand for drone monitoring, awareness and intelligence on college campuses, especially monitoring open stadiums and other largely attended events has grown significantly.

A SkySafe customer, Joe McCullough, the Deputy Chief of Police at the University of Illinois, knows first-hand the dangers rogue drones pose to the University campus. Prior to SkySafe, the University of Illinois struggled with the complexity of drone detection; anything beyond watching a drone beyond visual line of sight was challenging. After deploying SkySafe, the university gained full situational awareness of its airspace to keep its property, people, and assets safe. The success rate of locating the pilot and drone is now nearly 100 percent.

We sat down with Joe to ask a few questions:

Why has drone awareness and detection become increasingly more important for colleges and universities?

I’d break it down into three main categories:

  • Privacy Concerns: Drones equipped with cameras can pose a threat to student privacy - either in general on the campus or during a practice or sporting event. A drone monitoring system can alert security when a drone enters restricted areas.
  • Safety Hazards: Unauthorized drones can disrupt sporting events, graduation ceremonies, or even interfere with research equipment. Detection enables us to take action before an incident occurs.
  • Security Risks: Drones can be used for malicious purposes like delivering contraband or disrupting critical infrastructure. Early detection allows security to intervene and prevent harm.

What set you on the path to find a drone intelligence platform? We’re responsible for the overall safety and well-being of the University of Illinois and are always trying to prepare to act against the worst-case scenario. We had a few instances with rogue drones flying over the university campus and knew it was time to take action. Our biggest concern was keeping the players and fans safe during football games and other large outdoor events to avoid injuries and disruptions. We also have an airport on our campus so we wanted an offering that can allow us to work in conjunction with the airport for monitoring and detection.

What advice do you have to share with your counterparts at other higher ed institutions? As an initial step, all colleges and universities should conduct a security assessment to determine their drone risk profile. Consulting with drone safety experts and exploring available detection technologies, like SkySafe, are important steps in creating a safe and secure environment for everyone on campus. By being proactive, you can ensure that drones take flight for positive purposes and aren’t disruptive or harmful to student life and university procedures.

Read more about SkySafe’s deployment at the University of Illinois here.