As the DroneWISE project came to the end, the project coordinator Dr Holger Nitsch gave an interview for the Policing Insight about the developed tools and how they will be used

Author: Andy Staniforth // Published: October 5, 2022, on Policing Insight

Interview: Completion of EC drone project equips first responders with vital counter-terror skills

As the European Commission DroneWISE innovation project comes to a close, Project Co-ordinator Dr Holger Nitsch spoke to Policing Insight’s Andrew Staniforth about the counter-drone training tools that are now available for emergency service responders to better plan and prepare a multi-agency response to a terrorist drone attack.

Has the DroneWISE project delivered on its intended aim and ambition?

Yes, it has. The purpose of DroneWISE was to bring together a multi-disciplinary consortium of partners from across Europe to develop emergency service responses to a terrorist attack using a drone in a public space.

With funding secured from the European Commission’s Internal Security Fund, the project has fulfilled its main aim of developing a counter-UAV training programme to improve first-responder agencies co-ordination in response to such an attack.

What was also important to the DroneWISE team was to provide ready access to authoritative counter-UAV training tools for first responders, and to develop first-responder agencies’ co-ordinated strategic and tactical response to terrorist attacks using UAVs at public spaces.

I am delighted to say that all of these elements of the project have been successfully achieved, with the training being able to be delivered online, in a traditional classroom setting, or a mix of both depending upon the learning needs of those attending the training.

What is the aim of the DroneWISE training, and who is it for?

The aim of the DroneWISE Counter-UAV Training is to provide students with a detailed understanding of the threat posed by rogue drone activity, as well as the effective measures required to manage and mitigate the risks they pose.

The training has been designed to support all emergency service agencies – and staff at different levels of responsibility within their respective operating structures – to effectively respond to a terrorist drone attack.

When developing the training curriculum we were keen to ensure a student-centred approach, which we achieved by consulting with first-responder agencies about their operational requirements during the initial research phase of project.

The training programme has been purposefully designed to be flexible to meet the needs of different organisations seeking varying levels of training input.

Once completed, all students – whether police officers, paramedics or fire and rescue personnel – will all be able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the drone threat landscape, the capacity and capability of drones and related technologies, and the relevant law, rules and regulations relating to the illegal use of drones.

Those attending the course from operational planning or supervisory roles will also be able to design and develop a robust threat assessment to manage and mitigate the risks from rogue drone activity.

And senior managers completing the course will be able to devise a comprehensive strategic response to drone threats, demonstrating an ability to develop drone security policy, practice and procedure.

What content is included in the training programme?

The training programme includes a 10-module ‘menu of options’ that first-responder agencies can use to design and tailor the training provision to meet their individual needs.

These modules include an introduction to the drone threat landscape, which examines the terrorist use of drones in theatres of conflict, explores the criminal use of drones, and examines the threat posed by drones used to smuggle drugs and weapons into prisons.

The module also includes insights related to rogue drone incursions at airports and other restricted aviation sites, as well as the hostile reconnaissance threats of rogue drone activity at critical infrastructure sites and sectors.

This module provides an important common understanding of the threats from drones, but the DroneWISE training programme also has the option to include more specialist inputs.

As an example, we have developed a module on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology and counter-unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS) technology, to meet the needs of first responders who are required to understand more about the technology, either to inform risk assessments or to procure equipment as part of measures to counter threats.

Why do first-responder agencies need counter-drone training?

The DroneWISE consortium quickly recognised that the terrorist adoption of drones for targeting public spaces represented a key vulnerability. Our initial research, when combined with analysis of rogue drone incursions across Europe, indicated that many first-responder agencies have not fully developed the capacity or capability to effectively respond to a drone-related incident, including potential terrorist attacks.

We already know that emergency service agencies experience challenges when responding together to manage major terrorist incidents; developing and implementing co-ordinated plans to effectively respond to a terrorist drone attack adds more complexity, as it is a relatively new threat.

It’s unfortunate that every rogue drone incident at an airport, stadium, critical infrastructure site or public place inadvertently signals to would-be terrorists the fault lines and vulnerabilities in the ability of public authorities and first responder agencies to prevent and protect public spaces from rogue drone-related incidents.

It is a concern that terrorists are flirting with new drone technology, increasing the importance of training first-responder personnel in the terrorist threats we face, which is a fundamental step towards delivering a safe and effective incident response.

What are the key takeaways from the DroneWISE project for first responders?

Last year the DroneWISE project produced an Operational Briefing for all first-responder agencies. It sets out a list of recommendations or priority requirements, to develop their capacity and capability to safeguard the public from the terrorist use of drones.

The briefing communicated the key message that responding to the threat of drones is ineffective without fully understanding the threat landscape through increasing knowledge of drone and counter-drone technologies, and assessing the motivations of hostile actors and the specific risks and vulnerabilities of their intended target.

The briefing also included what I consider to be the key takeaway of the project: defeating rogue drone threat vectors requires the procurement and deployment of appropriate equipment, and the integration of that equipment into a comprehensive and coherent counter-drone strategy synchronised with existing security operations, and embedded within the very culture of resilience planning between all stakeholders.

As Project Coordinator, what have been the key highlights of the DroneWISE project?

The highlight has been working with the consortium of partners from industry, academia and law enforcement, to deliver training tools of substantial operational value to counter-terrorism, and to advance public safety.

The consortium understood from the very outset that we are much stronger when we work together, combining our skills and sharing knowledge and expertise towards the common goal of countering terrorist threats.

I am particularly proud to say that through the DroneWISE project, if all first responders complete the modules of the DroneWISE Counter-UAV training programme the multi-agency first-responders’ approach to responding to the terrorist use of drones to attack public places will be significantly enhanced.