TT Talk - Drones and security


Security at ports and terminals is vital to protect cargo, other assets and workforce. However, the typical size and layout of a port (especially container terminals) can make monitoring difficult, since the line of sight may be obscured by cargo, buildings and plant or/equipment. Similarly, the physical distance sometimes required to travel across the facility, compounded by the potential disruption to automated operations, adds to the challenges.

Where the security staff might struggle with this on the ground, the use of drones can provide the speed of deployment and a much improved viewpoint of what is happening in the facility. Such support not only may help pinpoint any area of concern, but also can provide and record additional data, such as thermal imagery and geo-location, which could deliver useful insights for any ongoing incident or subsequent investigations.

Further, the use of drones can reduce the need to place personnel in high-risk locations.

Current drone technologies that can support the security teams include:

  • Tethered drones [permanent power supply]
  • Thermal imaging and object tracking
  • Set ‘mission’ patrols
  • Loudspeaker
  • High powered lighting

Each of the above technologies are already widely available and in use in ports and various other industrial environments. Each may offer benefits that could usefully be evaluated more widely.

Drones can reduce the need to place personnel in high-risk locations.

Drone tethering

This is the process of connecting a drone to a permanent land-based power supply in the form of a fixed cable attachment. This technique removes the limitations of the flight time due to the capacity of the batteries and avoids battery change- over interruptions.

This allows the drone to operate for much longer duration and lends itself for use in prolonged surveillance operations where a high viewpoint from the drone can be used to maximum effect, while utilising the function of the zoom and thermal imaging functions of the camera. The collateral limitation is reduced freedom of movement around a facility.

Thermal imaging & tracking

Thermal imaging in a security use case may identify and track heat sources over a wide area and in poor lighting conditions. This therefore allows such information to be relayed to the team on the ground, supplying them with intelligence, that would not be available without the use of this technology.

The object tracking function – available for use with a regular image camera as much as with thermal imaging – allows the drone operator to fix onto an object and then let the drone camera track the object. This enables the drone operator to relay and record the data without losing sight of the object being tracked.

In each case it is possible to relay the thermal image or /camera data directly to the ground team, who may be some distance from what is being observed, so that they can see exactly what the drone (and the drone operator) is seeing.

These capabilities can support detection of intruders (including clandestine migrants) as much as give early warning of developing fire risks in cargo or assets.

Mission patrols

The development and use of set ‘mission’ patrols or flight paths can be programmed into a drone. This enables the effective patrol of areas, such as perimeter fences, while the drone operator monitors the video feed. This removes the need to put security staff in areas of typically low activity and avoids possible lone working risks.

Aggregating capabilities, such as unobstructed viewpoint and thermal image enriched data, can further improve the effectiveness of what would have typically been carried out on foot.


A number of manufactures can supply drones with loudspeakers, enabling the drone operator to speak directly to any person remotely. This affords the advantage of being able to communicate hazards or to trespassers quickly on identification, as well as protecting workers from possible aggression.

High powered lighting

Installation of lighting within the drone allows the operator to illuminate an area remotely, which can, of course, enrich further image data capture. This may provide specific value in a search operation, where a thermal imaging camera has been used to locate an intruder, and the lighting function illuminates the area, supporting the team on the ground, and providing sufficient lighting to enable safe access.


The use case for drones in the port and terminal security sector has multiple benefits as described above, together with a real return on investment in both resource deployment and safety for the workforce.

However, when talking about the use of drones and security, we cannot be dismissive of the use of this technology by bad actors who would also utilise this rapidly developing technology to circumvent existing security measures in your facilities. For example, TT is aware of reported cases of drones being used to undertake surveillance missions to help criminals plan their breach of security.

The deployment and ongoing development of your own security drone operation enhances the offensive measures in terms of surveillance and incident support within the port and terminal environment. It additionally equips you with an understanding of the capabilities of the technology to help defend your facility from bad actors, who may use drones to penetrate traditional security measures such as fences and patrols.

The deployment and ongoing development of your own security drone operation enhances...surveillance and incident support within the port and terminal environment.


If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any others who you may feel would be interested.

  • TT Talk Edition 305 (Chinese) 755 KB


    Download PDF

Neil Dalus

TT Club