Drones at stadiums are easy to spot, but hard to stop

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Drones at stadiums are easy to spot, but hard to stop
In this photo taken on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, police officers investigate the southwest corner of Louis Armstrong Stadium after a drone flew over the court, buzzing the players during a match between Flavia Pennetta, of Italy, and Monica Niculescu, of Romania, during the second round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. The drone crash-landed in the seats and can be seen to the right of the police officer on his phone. Whether they're crashing into the bleachers or simply hovering above stadiums to get a cool picture of the action down below, drones have become semi-regular guests at the ballparks these days. That has put the federal government, local police forces and security think tanks on alert, trying to catch up to the technology and figure out how to prevent the hard-to-stop devices from doing major damage. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Britain's Mohamed Farah operates a drone during a break in a training session for the upcoming World Athletic Championships at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 21: Mo Farah of Great Britain looks on as he flies a drone during a practice session ahead of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at the Beijing National Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
A drone flies an Albanian flag at the national league match in Vlora, 140 kilometers (85 miles) southwest of capital Tirana, between local Flamurtari FC vs. KF Skenderbeu, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. The game ended 1-1. Earlier this week a drone that flew an Albanian nationalist banner over a soccer stadium in Belgrade, Serbia ignited a brawl when Albanian players who tried to protect it were attacked by Serb counterparts, fans and security staff on the pitch, forcing the referee to abandon the match. (AP Photo/str)
A drone with an Albanian flag flies over Partizan stadium during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade, Serbia, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
FILE - This is a Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 file photo of a drone with an Albanian flag banner flies over Partizan stadium during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade, Serbia. The match was abandoned due to crowd trouble. Albania was awarded a victory over Serbia by the top sports court on Friday July 10, 2015 in a reversal of a UEFA sanction over a soccer game that was abandoned when a drone with a political banner flew into the stadium. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - MAY 14: A drone remote-controlled carrying a cloth simulating a ghost with the letter B on it is seen during a second leg match between Boca Juniors and River Plate as part of round of sixteen of Copa Bridgestone Libertadores 2015 at Alberto J. Armando Stadium on May 14, 2015 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Players of ASM Clermont Auvergne rugby club take part in a training session on February 19, 2015 at the Marcel Michelin stadium in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, as a drone films them for training analysis. AFP PHOTO / THIERRY ZOCCOLAN (Photo credit should read THIERRY ZOCCOLAN/AFP/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 25: A camera-equipped flying drone is seen prior to a game between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 25, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke defeated Virginia Tech 66-48. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 7: A drone flies above the scoreboard at Wrigley Field during the seventh inning of the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game on September 7, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)
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Whether they're crashing into the bleachers or simply hovering above stadiums to get a cool picture of the action down below, drones have become semi-regular guests at the ballparks these days.

That has put the federal government, local police forces and security think tanks on alert, trying to catch up to the technology and figure out how to prevent the hard-to-stop devices from doing major damage.

"It's scary for all of us," said Lou Marciani, the director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. "A crash, even without a payload, has the potential to injure several people. And if they carry a payload, it could be anything from a weapon to anthrax to something worse than that."

Drone crashes, two days apart, at the U.S. Open in New York and before a Kentucky football game, made news earlier this month. But over the past two years, more than 50 unmanned aircrafts have flown over Major League Baseball and NFL stadiums, coming and going quietly - usually controlled by a hobbyist who either lost control of the device or wanted a picture of their favorite team in action.

No harm done. But the prospect of the drones doing something worse has security experts looking for answers, and quickly.

Last October, the Federal Aviation Administration issued notice that it's illegal to fly drones near Major League Baseball, NFL and NCAA Division I college football games and major auto races. Other sporting events can put their own bans in place. But the penalties for violating a ban - and who hands out those sentences - is still murky.

In the Kentucky case, campus police brought wanton endangerment charges against the owner of the wayward drone; at the U.S. Open, New York police brought similar charges against a high school science teacher who lost control of his drone.

The FAA issued a "law enforcement guidance" paper to help local jurisdictions figure out this new problem. It lists its own enforcement tools - including warning notices, letters of correction and civil penalties - but suggests state and local police do most of the work to detect the drones and enforce the penalties.

In its notice about temporary flight restrictions at sporting events, the FAA lists reckless endangerment, operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence, trespassing and assault as possible criminal charges for unsanctioned drone use.

Much of this, experts say, is the result of seat-of-the-pants law- and rule-making to combat a new and very fluid problem. And none of it addresses the most important issue: How to prevent a drone from coming into a stadium in the first place.

"So much of this is unknown and so much of it raises so many questions," said Derek Catsam of University of Texas of the Permian Basin, who studies stadium security issue. "It's a case of where the technology is so far ahead of our ability to come to grips with it."

There are around 2,500 Major League Baseball games a year, so 31 drone sightings last year and nine so far this season does not constitute a major crisis, said John Skinner, the director of security for MLB. Still, baseball took part in a government project called "Operation Foul Ball" last year at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis to try to detect drones.

Skinner said Minneapolis police worked with the Department of Homeland Security on a system that could identify the radio frequencies of drones before they took off.

"In essence, it worked," he said.

But it didn't necessarily protect against the drones taking off; one found its way to the stadium during the home run derby. Also, there are private companies that can provide the same service using similar technology, and some of the teams have been approached about working with those companies.

Among the dozens of uses for drones at sports facilities is attaching cameras to get before-impossible angles for the TV broadcasts. In January, ESPN cleared numerous regulatory hurdles so it could have drones with cameras follow skiers and snowboarders down the hill for the Winter X Games.

ESPN got approval only by ensuring it would not fly the drones over spectators or in the air space of planes flying in and out of a nearby airport.

Chris Calcinari, who spearheaded the approvals process for ESPN, called it a big opportunity because "I don't think there are many events that would actually allow us to fly a drone."

Another application: For security. It's possible that drones themselves could be used to keep renegade drones away from fans. And a drone can hover over a stadium to look for weapons, fights and other disruptions.

The idea of "good" drones and "bad" drones flying over the same stadium may seem like stuff of the future. But it's an idea that's not too farfetched.

"We're in that infant stage of, what does this all mean and where is it going?" Marciani said. "It's too early to know. You're crawling. You're not even standing up yet."

See related video of a toddler injured by a drone:

Toddler Injured by Flying Shrapnel from Drone Crash

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