SRS drone update leaves questions unanswered

Last June, a dozen unmanned aerial system, or drone, sightings over Savannah River Site set investigations into motion, including help from federal entities.

 

At Monday’s first day of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board bimonthlymeeting, the Department of Energy presented an update publicly for the first time since the drone sightings began.

When the sightings were reported, sitewide announcements were broadcast on the facility’s loudspeaker system. Security alert emails were delivered to employees, and security guards began inspecting vehicles leaving barricades in an attempt to find the pilot and drone.

Nearly a year later, though, the DOE said no drones have been found or confirmed. According to the presentation, 12 sightings were reported, four of which were determined to be unconfirmed and not worthy of further investigation. Sightings were reported over all reactor areas across the 310-square-mile site, often miles away from any of the perimeters.

The DOE presentation focused on FAA regulations and definitions regarding drone use and SRS airspace. Airspace over the site is listed as a part of the national airspace system and is subject to tighter regulations as a national security area. That means airmen and pilots are informed via FAA Notice to Airmen asking them to voluntarily avoid the SRS airspace. It also asks that all pilots avoid flying below 2,000 feet.

When the investigations began in 2016, outspoken site critic and SRS Watch founder Tom Clements was interviewed by the FBI.

“SRS security personnel got the FBI to question me about a matter which I had no knowledge,” Clements said.

Clements, who is based in Columbia, said the investigation into an area out of his field of knowledge led him to believe the drone scare was “bogus.”

In November, he sent a request to the DOE for drone documentation under the Freedom of Information Act. Nearly six months into 2017, his request remains unfilled. He said he got notification Monday that his request was sent to the Department of Transportation, but pointed out that his request was specific to SRS documents related to the drone flights.

He said the presentation, focused on regulations and not on the investigation, left the public with little substantial information.

“Given how quickly SRS stopped talking about the supposed drone scare and their refusal to talk about it since the summer of 2016, it is no surprise that SRS has nothing of substance to say about the matter,” Clements said.

The DOE presenters said they don’t know how many regulations were broken by the drones. The FAA regulations – Code of Federal Regulations, Part 107 – were officially installed within weeks of the first sighting at SRS.

The DOE presentation said current security personnel on site have been used to identify drones over SRS airspace. The DOE said officials from its National Nuclear Security Administration branch discussed options with the FAA regarding on regulating drone operation over sensitive DOE facilities, including SRS.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

Jay Phillips 5 months ago
SRS owns a tremendous amount of property. I'm sure there are at least a dozen people who live within a mile of the property who own drones and fly them for fun. If they are toy drones the operator has no way of knowing they are over restricted air space and the range on those drones is very short. Larger pro model drones have GPS and will warn the operator and even refuse to allow them to take off in restricted space. But even with pro models the range is limited. If you could get past the restriction on an older drone without updated firmware you would still have a hard time getting close enough to one of the buildings before the battery level was too low. You might be able to get a high aerial shot and see the buildings in the distance but you could get a much better picture just using Google maps satellite view. So spying is out and with limited range using them as a weapon is also unlikely. Most likely is its just someone flying near the edge of the property having fun. Nothing to see here. 
Paul Rodgers 5 months ago
The operator is still responsible for the aircraft and if not camera operated they are to be within sight at all times.  The operator IS responsible for operating one over restricted airspace.  PERIOD!  And yes, violations of this type should be prosecuted, so there is something to see here.  And yes, I work with secure information so I do take this more seriously than someone who thinks that they are not responsible for their actions. 
Michael Cohen 5 months ago
It could have  been a Russian drone.  They bought them from the Israels for hundreds of millions and a have been using them in "Syria and the Ukraine.  These drones have US technology involved,, yet we keep giving them billions.  google: drones Israel Russia. Notice no US media have re;ported this story.
Jeffrey A. Friedberg 5 months ago
Those pesky Heebs again, ey, Mike, old top?
Tesla Model 3 Forum 5 months ago
Oh look, an antisemitic cockroach using a fake name.  Somebody step on it.

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