The UK’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) defines critical infrastructure as ‘‘Those critical elements of national infrastructure (facilities, systems, sites, property, information, people, networks and processes), the loss or compromise of which would result in major detrimental impact on the availability, delivery or integrity of essential services, leading to severe economic or social consequences or to loss of life.’
This critical infrastructure sits all around us as we go about our day-to-day lives and for the most part it goes unnoticed. Drones can impact this infrastructure network in two dimensions. Firstly, the infrastructure managers can utilise this technology to ensure the integrity and security of the asset through many applications such as inspection and survey. Secondly, there is the threat that drone use can present to the infrastructure itself, when used by irresponsible or hostile actors. To emphasise the significance of the threat of drones to its critical infrastructure network, US Homeland Security publishes FAQs for guidance on its website.
Critical infrastructure is multi-dimensional and so are the applications that drones can bring to address some of the challenges encountered in this environment. For physical sites drones can be used to easily and quickly inspect the infrastructure to determine maintenance issues before they occur. Additionally, a full range of survey data capture activity can address the geospatial needs of the site. Examples of this are at fossil fuel power stations where volumetric analysis can keep a track of coal stocks, ensuring that the fuel source doesn’t fall below a certain level. At sites where there is additional risk, such as nuclear facilities, drones can really be of benefit because, in many tasks, they can replace the physical need for a human being to present in the risk zone.
Another important use for drones at critical infrastructure sites is that of physical security. Drones can be employed in monitoring remote sites or where there are long linear barriers to routinely patrol in support of the overall security task. In the latter case, a drone can cover vast amounts of linear features in a short space of time, much more than if if were being patrolled by a human on foot or even in a vehicle.
On the other side of the coin, the emerging threat that drones present to infrastructure facilities is a credible risk to the integrity of these sites. The misuse of drones in this respect, either by irresponsible members of the public or by people with malicious intent, is a threat that governments are now moving to address proactively by examining where the weak points exist. In doing so they can develop effective counter drone strategies utilising a range of technological measures all of which overlap to provide a holistic defence plan. This is not an easy task; drones are small, quick and difficult to detect and, even when you do, there are currently a limited number of ways to prevent them being used against critical infrastructure.
Like so many other areas of application, drones are set to be a key feature in critical infrastructure support in the future. Consortiq are experts in understanding how drone technology can be adopted to best suit your needs. Download our latest industry report and see how drones are revolutionising this industry.