National Security Summit, London (5 December 2019)

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GSDM’s director, Katja Samuel, together with GSDM Principal Associate and Drone Team leader, Shaun Ryles, recently presented at the National Security Summit on the topic of

“Rethinking counter-drone resilience planning”.

Their presentation explored how both public and private sector organisations can prepare themselves better for drone related incidents by adopting a resilience approach. They focused on counter-drone approaches, namely technological (hard- and soft-ware) and non-technological systems aimed at reducing or neutralising threat and risk posed by drones.

These themes were explored principally in the aerial arena where Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) (also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA)) operate, since most case studies of actual incidents have occurred in that context. They currently pose the most drone-related security, safety and disaster risk challenges due to technological developments as well as the sheer volume of drone users. That said, throughout the presentation, transferable principles and key lessons were drawn out of wider applicability across the drone space, especially surface (terrestrial and maritime) and sub-surface contexts.

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Shaun started off by explaining the concept of resilience, which is about strength, competitiveness, adaptability to disruption, preparedness, re-shaping and growth. Unlike the single event-focus of business continuity and crisis management, such characteristics enable an organisation to not merely survive, but thrive, learn, adapt during crises and other forms of core business disruption. He then examined the critical need for organisations to become better educated in relation to drones. This is essential in order to counter some misleading public perceptions which can lead to a false understanding (and over-estimation) of potential risks resulting in panic and decision-paralysis; whilst balancing this with the need to be able to identify real potential threats and risks together with the correct counter-drone responses to them.

Key factors were then explored as to why many organisations, including Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), would benefit from broadening their current counter-drone thinking and approaches to a resilience one. Whilst counter-drone technological solutions can have an important, integral part to play in an organisation’s overall resilience, there can be an unhelpful dependency and overreliance upon them as a panacea for all things counter-drone. As yet there is no ‘magic silver bullet’ and there is no ‘one size fits all’ technological solution, though there are a number of established key capabilities for organisations to consider.

A key limitation with a technological solution is that by its very nature it cannot alone make an organisation resilient, rather needs to be fully integrated into wider organisational planning. Furthermore, procurement costs can be prohibitive, the shelf-life can be short in a rapidly evolving landscape of emerging technology, and existing technological solutions are still largely developing in terms of their maturity and capability. Katja examined a number of recent case studies, involving the use of ‘swarm’ and weaponized drones such as the recent attacks against Saudi oil installations, which illustrated this point starkly. In particular she identified a number of recurring themes of resilience vulnerabilities in terms of current levels of preparedness and the effectiveness of responses even across CNI globally, such as poor levels of preparedness, intelligence failings, insufficient doctrine to inform/deconflict key stakeholders, and inadequate technical capability.

In response to such identified vulnerabilities, Katja then outlined some of the key organisational benefits associated with a resilience approach, such as increased adaptive capability with security and commercial benefits, preventing or reducing the wasted use/deployment of valuable resources, meeting legal due diligence and other obligations, and so forth.

The presentation ended with a brief outline of the new counter-drone organisational resilience health check tool that GSDM is developing. This is aimed at assisting organisations to become more internally resilient and less dependent on external resources and actors, largely through taking a number of relatively low-cost, internal self-help measures. For more information on this, please get in touch at [email protected]

Dr Katja Samuel is the Director of Global Security and Disaster Management Ltd (GSDM). An international lawyer, with a military background, she specialises in security, disaster risk and resilience planning. Shaun Ryles, a Principal Associate of GSDM, heads up its counter-drone team. With extensive military, operational and commercial experience, Shaun specialises in comprehensive operational resilience.

Further reading:

Rethinking Counter-Drone Management: The Need for a Resilience Solution (Part 1)

Rethinking Counter-Drone Management: Developing a Resilience Solution (Part 2)

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