How Prisons Can Keep Their Skies Drone-Free

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(DGIwire) – Prisoners don’t usually expect contraband to drop from the skies. But on July 29, 2016, that’s just what happened at Mansfield Correctional Institution in Mansfield, OH. According to CNN, a drone flew over the prison yard and dropped a package containing 144.5 grams of tobacco, 65.4 grams of marijuana and 6.6 grams of heroin. Officials noticed the drop had occurred only after a fight broke out among 75 inmates scrambling for the goods, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

This was not the first appearance of a drone over an Ohio prison, reported The Columbus Dispatch; in fact, noted the paper, such high-tech flybys are taking place over other prisons across the U.S., sometimes dropping forbidden smartphones and chargers in addition to drugs.

“Prisons authorities all over the world now have to be on alert for attempts to smuggle narcotics, cell phones, weapons and other illicit material to inmates,” says Jonathan Hunter, CEO of Department 13. “However, technology is being developed that can prevent drones from penetrating prison perimeters, and can alert the authorities and land the drone in a secured space for subsequent recovery and investigation.”

Department 13 is developing MESMER™, an open software platform for the identification, tracking, and mitigation of a variety of radio-controlled devices including drones. MESMER’s mitigation approach, called protocol manipulation, allows the system to take control of one or many drones to stop them, safely land them, redirect them, or take total control of their flight. MESMER’s abilities have already been successfully demonstrated to U.S. government agencies and the intelligence community; it was one of eight finalists in the August 2016 MITRE Challenge and also featured in the U.S. Department of Defense’s September 2016 Black Dart Challenge.

MESMER can often capture and decode raw drone telemetry data: this provides not only the location of the drone but potentially reveals information about the drone’s base station or controller. In some cases, MESMER can even obtain video, accelerometer, magnetometer and other onboard system data.

The MESMER platform offers significant benefits over standard electronic mitigation approaches; for example, it does not attempt to overpower signals in the way that jammers do, and it is inherently low-power so that it has no inference with existing electronic signals in the vicinity. It is versatile as well: in addition to keeping prison skies clear, MESMER can be integrated with military defense systems on land or sea to allow security of military forces and interdict enemy drones; and it can deter threats posed by drones at public events such as sports, concerts, malls or high-population areas.

“Prison guards should be able to focus on maintaining security on the ground, and rest assured that everything above the horizon is clear of security risks,” adds Hunter.

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