An incident at the Ohio State-Maryland college football game, where a drone temporarily halted the nationally televised contest and led to the arrest of its operator, has raised alarms about the security vulnerabilities posed by rogue drones at sporting events.
The drone flew over Ohio Stadium in Columbus, but police found no evidence of malicious intent from its pilot, who claimed to have lost control of the device. This event highlights the potential for disruption and panic caused by unauthorized drones flying over stadiums and other public venues.
Cathy Lanier, the NFL’s chief of security, noted that there has been a surge in drone-related incidents, with around 2,500 drone incursions over NFL stadiums last season, up from 1,300 the previous year. These incidents highlight the inadequacy of current federal laws in preventing such intrusions.
While federal law prohibits drones from flying over major sporting events, the lack of enforcement mechanisms means that these laws are often violated. Lanier and other sports league executives and lawmakers argue that they need the authority to take control of unauthorized drones and move them out of restricted airspace.
Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, expressed concerns about the potential for nefarious use of drones to drop explosives or create panic among spectators. Stadiums and outdoor venues have limited defenses against threats from the air, making security vulnerabilities a significant concern.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are currently the only entities authorized to counter rogue drones, but officials argue that they lack the resources to cover most major sporting events, leaving stadiums exposed to potential security risks.
This issue has broader implications beyond sports events, as the Department of Homeland Security reported nearly 2,000 drone sightings near U.S. airports since 2021, including frequent incursions at major airports. Additionally, Mexican drug cartels are increasingly using drones for illegal drug transportation across the border.
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To address these concerns, lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would grant state and local law enforcement agencies the authority to combat rogue drones. However, as of now, there is no guarantee that such measures will be enacted before the current congressional spending bill expires on November 17.