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As Gatwick grapples with drones, Canadian military eyes ways to drone-proof airspace

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The key to detecting tiny drones spying on military bases or intruding into an airport’s airspace could be to use an existing TV signal.

Canada’s Department of National Defence is exploring using regular television signals to create a radar system that would detect flying intruders the size of an insect, as well as using other drone detection technologies.

The military is worried about spying drones collecting real-time video of its operations as the machines become smaller, cheaper and more expendable. 

And the chaos caused by drones flying into airspace at Britain’s Gatwick Airport this week show the small devices can have big consequences.  

As drone technology has evolved, drone detection techniques need to keep pace. Some drones have even been fashioned to look like birds to help them better blend into the environment. Others are equipped with gripping claws allowing them to perch on a tree limb or ledge for better surveillance, according to a reference document written in 2016 by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), a DND agency.

“Small drones are increasingly being used for spying/reconnaissance applications. They are small in size and hard to detect,” said the document titled, Counter-measures against drone surveillance.

“They can pose real and significant threats to military operations,” it stated.

This is a drone made to look like a female falcon, but it’s not used for spying. It’s to drive real birds away from the Edmonton International Airport. (John Robertson/CBC) 

How radar detection system works

To counter that threat, DND has been researching how to better detect spying drones with DRDC examining several different technologies.

According to the document, one of the best solutions found was to create a passive radar detection system using TV signals.

The system works by monitoring the constant TV signals in the air. When these signals hit an object, they can be detected by the system. 

“Firstly, TV signals transmitted by major TV channels are powerful enough for detecting drones, even very small ones,” said the DRDC document. 

TV signals transmitted by major TV channels are powerful enough for detecting drones, even very small ones.– Document from Defence Research and Development Canada, an agency of DND

“Since TV transmission towers have been a fixture in the urban landscape for a long time, people are used to and accepting their presence.

“Secondly, TV signal is free of charge: there is essentially no cost for tapping into the TV signal transmission.

“Thirdly, TV signals are transmitted continuously 24/7, making it an ideal source for radar surveillance application.” 

The researchers suggest the TV transmitter at Camp Fortune in Ottawa could be used to monitor high-value infrastructure in a 17-kilometre radius. It would even be able to pick up insect-sized drones operating within a five-kilometre radius around the Ottawa International Airport.  

Battery-operated drones with a range greater than 50 kilometres are already available on the commercial hobby market, according to Defence Research and Development Canada, a DND agency. (Sarawut Chamsaeng/Shutterstock)

Other ways of detecting drones

But the technology does have its flaws. Any radar system that can pick up small drones can pick up birds as well, both of which have similar radar signatures that could result in false alarms. 

However, the document suggests this problem may soon be solved by artificial intelligence algorithms that can tell the difference between a bird and a drone by analyzing the different ways they move. 

There’s no perfect solution. Each of them has their strengths and weaknesses.– Charles Vidal, a research engineer with the National Research Council

The military isn’t alone in looking to develop better ways of detecting drones. The National Research Council of Canada has been examining drone detection technology for the last three years. 

It has looked at a range of different ways to locate drones, including advanced radar that’s good at detecting small objects, acoustic technology that can recognize drone sounds and a radio frequency detection system that tracks down the radio signals exchanged between a drone and its operator.

Charles Vidal is a research engineer with the National Research Council. (Noémie Moukanda/Radio-Canada)

Engineers also explored using thermal imaging cameras to highlight a drone’s heat signature and advanced cameras that can spot drones from far away.

“There’s no perfect solution. Each of them has their strengths and weaknesses,” said Charles Vidal, a research engineer with the National Research Council. 

Much demand from other sectors

Vidal said there’s a lot of demand for this kind of technology from many different sectors.

Industrial sites like oil refineries want to keep drones away from dangerous equipment. Even jails and prisons want to locate drones to keep them from dropping contraband into their institutions.  

But airports contacted by CBC News haven’t embraced these new technologies, even though the number of drones spotted too close to airports and aircraft in Canada more than tripled between 2014 and 2017 from 38 to 135. There have been 95 incidents reported to Transport Canada this year, as of Nov. 30. 

Toronto Pearson International Airport said in a statement earlier this month that it is not currently investigating the use of drone detection systems. The spokesperson went on to say that drones are “not much of an issue” around the airport at present. 

However, it will continue to monitor drone activity near the airport and respond accordingly. 

Vidal says companies that run industrial sites are interested in ways to detect drones to keep them away from dangerous areas. (FS11/Shutterstock)

The Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is taking a similar approach. It’s monitoring the availability and usage of devices to detect drone activity near the airport, but hasn’t yet used that technology.

In 2016, a plane en route to Billy Bishop had a close call with a drone and had to take evasive action to avoid it. Two flight attendants ended up with minor injuries.

Under Canadian law, drones can’t be flown within 5.6 kilometres of airports or 1.9 kilometres of heliports. Endangering aircraft is a particularly serious offence that can carry fines of up to $25,000 or possible prison time. 

In Nova Scotia, a spokesperson for the Halifax Stanfield International Airport said it doesn’t make public what kind of detection technology it does or does not have. 

Still, Vidal said there are others willing to adopt the new drone detection technologies.

“Different organizations are already performing pilot projects where they will deploy these solutions for either a short period of time for testing and evaluation,” he said. “These systems are getting deployed more and more.”   

Different organizations are already performing pilot projects where they will deploy these solutions for either a short period of time for testing and evaluation.– Charles Vidal

   

The DRDC document recommends hands-on testing as well. 

Its authors wanted the DRDC to start an in-house project to develop prototype detection systems.

The DND has not said what kind of technology it has adopted or might adopt to detect drones. 

No one from the department would agree to an interview. 

In an emailed statement, the department said it will continue to examine the threats drones pose and will keep evaluating existing drone detection systems and countermeasures, including “potential physical, electromagnetic and other protection improvements.”  

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Ottawa education workers still teaching special-ed students at schools want safety checks

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Some Ottawa educators say they are concerned about the safety of classrooms that remain open in schools for special-education students.

Ontario elementary and secondary students have been sent home to study virtually because of the dangers posed by rising rates of COVID-19. However, special-education classes are still operating at many bricks-and-mortar schools.

The special-education classes include students with physical and developmental disabilities, autism and behaviour problems. Some don’t wear masks and require close physical care.

Two unions representing teachers and educational assistants at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have sent letters to Ottawa Public Health expressing their concerns.

It’s urgent that public health officials inspect classrooms to assess the safety of the special-ed classes, said a letter from the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which also represents the educational assistants who work with special-needs children.

“In the absence of reasons based on medical evidence to keep specialized systems classes open, we are unsure as to the safety of staff and students in these programs,” said the letter signed by president Stephanie Kirkey and other union executives.

The letter said staff agreed that students in specialized classes had difficulty with remote education and benefited most from in-person instruction.

“Our members care deeply about the students they work with and are not only concerned about their own health and safety, but also about that of their students, as they are often unable to abide by COVID safety protocols that include masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene, thus making it more likely that they could transmit the virus to one another,” the letter said.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has 1,286 elementary and secondary students in special-education classes attending in person at 87 schools, said spokesperson Darcy Knoll.

While final numbers were not available, Knoll said the board believed a large number of the special-education students were back in class on Friday at schools.

In-person classes for other elementary and secondary students are scheduled to resume Jan. 25.

The school boards provide PPE for educators in special-education classes as required, including surgical masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.

Several educators interviewed said they don’t understand why it has been deemed unsafe for students in mainstream classes to attend class, but not special-ed students.

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Ottawa sets record of 210 new COVID-19 cases following lag in data reporting

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Ottawa has now broken its daily record for new COVID-19 cases twice in 2021, with 210 new cases added on Friday amid a lag in data reports from earlier in the week.

The nation’s capital has now seen 10,960 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard reports 977 active cases of the virus in Ottawa, a jump of more than 100 over Thursday’s figures.

One additional person has died in relation to COVID-19 in Ottawa, raising the city’s death toll in the pandemic to 395.

The record-setting case count comes a day after Ottawa reported a relatively low increase of 68 cases. Ontario’s COVID-19 system had meanwhile reported 164 new cases on Thursday.

OPH said Thursday that due to a large number of case reports coming in late Wednesday, the local system did not account for a large portion of cases. The health unit said it expects the discrepancy to be filled in the subsequent days.

Taken together, Thursday and Friday’s reports add 278 cases to Ottawa’s total, a daily average of 139 cases.

The new single-day record surpasses a benchmark set this past Sunday, when the city recorded 184 new cases.

Ontario also reported a new record of 4,249 cases on Friday, with roughly 450 of those cases added due to a lag in reporting in Toronto.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also continues to climb in Ottawa. OPH’s dashboard shows there are currently 24 people in hospital with COVID-19, seven of whom are in the intensive care unit.

Three new coronavirus outbreaks were added to OPH’s dashboard on Friday. One outbreak affects a local shelter where one resident has tested positive for the virus, while the other two are traced to workplaces and private settings in the community.

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Ottawa family dealing with mould issue in apartment grateful for support

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa family, who has been dealing with mould in their south Ottawa apartment, is grateful for the support they have received from the community.

“I would like to say big very mighty, big thank you to everyone,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

Adeniyi lives with her three sons in a South Keys apartment. Her son Desmond turned to social media on Sunday to seek help for the family, saying they’ve been dealing with mould in their unit and it has taken too long to fix.

“I see my mom go through a struggle everyday; with three kids, it’s not easy,” says 16-year-old Desmond Adeniyi.

He setup a GoFundMe page to help the family raise money to move out. After gaining online attention and the story, which originally aired CTV News Ottawa on Tuesday, they have been able to raise over $30,000.

“Yes! I was surprised, a big surprise!” says Nofisat Adeniyi, “We are free from the mess that we’ve been going through.”

The family was so touched, they decided to pay it forward and donated $5,000 to another family in need, “A lady my son told me about,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

The recipient wants to remain anonymous, but when she found out from Adeniyi, “She was crying, she has three kids; I remember when I was, I can feel what she’s feeling – because I was once in those shoes.”

CTV News Ottawa did reach out to the property management company for an update on the mould. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for COGIR Realty wrote:

“We respect the privacy of our residents and are unable to disclose any specific information regarding any of our residents. We can, however, let you know that we are working with the residents and are making every effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” said Cogir Real Estate

The giving did not stop at just cash donations. “When I saw the segment, the thing that struck me the most was how easily the situation can be resolved,” says mould removal expert Charlie Leduc with Mold Busters in Ottawa.

Leduc is not involved in the case, but appeared in the original story, and after seeing the mould on TV wanted to help.

“This isn’t something that we typically do, but given the circumstance and given the fact that this has gone on way too long, our company is willing to go in and do this work for free,” said Leduc.

The Adeniyi family may now have some options, and are grateful to the community for the support.

“Yes, It’s great news — you can see me smiling,” says Nofisat.

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