MOUNDSVILLE - Sometimes described as an "angry beehive," the unmistakable sound of drones whizzing through the sky will be heard at the 2014 Mock Prison Riot from May 4-7 at the former West Virginia Penitentiary.
DroneShield LLC, a Virginia-based company that specializes in drone detection systems, will deploy drones and its drone detection technology during training scenarios at the four-day riot. Special operations teams will practice scenarios, in which drones will be flown over the prison walls to drop off contraband to "prisoners."
According to Brian Hearing, co-founder of DroneShield, drones have become a growing concern with prison wardens as improved technology continues to make drones more widely available and inexpensive.
Photo by Sarah Harmon
Co-founders of DroneShield John Franklin, left, and Brian Hearing set up a drone carrying simulated contraband to be flown over the former West Virginia Penitentiary walls Saturday.
Photos by Sarah Harmon
Brian Hearing launches a drone to fly over the walls of the former West Virginia Penitentiary on Saturday.
John Franklin tries to catch a fake gun carried by the remote-controlled device.
"We are aware of of news articles on people using drones to drop off drugs or cellphones into prison yards," Hearing said. "It's going to be really interesting how people handle this. What if 10 drones come in at a time? We're going to throw in twists and sneak in contraband including guns and knives and we're going to see how the officers respond to that."
Hearing said teams will practice both a surprise scenario in which officers will not know drones are coming in until after the fact and a scenario in which they will be alerted to a drone by a DroneShield device.
DroneShield was founded and developed by Hearing and John Franklin, who earned advanced degrees in engineering and computer science and have more than 20 years of experience working on science and engineering projects.
DroneShield is a small, square device that can be plugged into an outlet or can operate on a micro-USB battery charger for a few hours. It is designed to target commercial, off-the-shelf drone models designed for consumers. The device uses a microphone that listens for the sound of drones using a database of common drone acoustic signatures, which reduce false alarms such as the sounds of lawn mowers or leaf blowers.
The device does not interfere with a drone in anyway, but it will send a warning to officers to the presence of a drone by either text message or email, allowing officers time to respond. According to Hearing, DroneShield also provides digital evidence for the prosecution of people attempting to sneak in contraband.
"Civilian drone technology has opened the door for an entirely new threat to facility security," Major Ronnie Williams, West Virginia Division of Corrections chief of special operations, said. "It's not something we've encountered in West Virginia yet, but as early as 2004, there started to be reports of it occurring from all over the world."
Williams said a basic Internet search on the words 'civilian drones for sale' results in about 496,000 hits.
From instructions on how to build a low-cost drone to drones ready-made with price points ranging from $100 to $15,000 and everything in between, it is easy to see how criminals are getting their hands on these devices and using them for nefarious purposes, he said.
"It's a growing threat to security," Williams said.
So far, operations teams from the Lee County Sheriff's Office in Florida and the West Virginia Division of Corrections are scheduled to participate in training scenarios involving DroneShield.