Drones and First Responders-Hernando Sun

Hernando County First Responders Use Modern Technology at Work

Few people know that drones have existed since the early 1900s. Most people associate them with realistic action movies, or “there” SF saga such as “Captain Phillips,” “I in the Sky,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “Chappy.” Once a fiction, drones are now used for recreational purposes, business activities, and military operations. The applications most closely related to the safety of the general public are those of our first responders.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and Hernando County Fire and Emergency Services (HCFES) use drones for many operations. HCSO has owned a drone unit since November 2019. HCFES has been operating the unit since October last year. These two institutions are cooperating in several operations and plan to conduct joint training this summer.

Corporal Mike Woodward, a 10-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, was the one who proposed the idea of ​​a drone unit to Sheriff Nienhaus. Currently, they have seven agents certified as drone pilots. To be certified, you must take the FAA Part 107 course and pass the test. This test is similar to the basic knowledge test for fixed-wing pilots. All members of the drone unit have other missions. There are traffic agents, detectives, patrol agents, etc.
Drones are useful in many situations. For example, it has been used to find missing or fugitive suspects, to locate fires in fire brigade rescue and forestry, and to determine the size and direction of a fire.

“The drones fill the gap between the incoming call and the air unit coming to the scene. They are stored in the agency’s vehicle for immediate use,” Cpl said. Woodward.
You may not need a helicopter, which can save you a lot of money on your agency. Helicopters burn gallons of fuel in a short period of time, but the only cost of a drone is to charge or replace the battery as needed, and sometimes to replace the propeller. In most cases, drones can reach the scene faster than helicopters.

Currently, 13 drones are in use. Four are small drones that can be used in structures or limited areas. Five of the drones have spotlights, speakers, and infrared capabilities that allow you to fly at night.

One agent can work on the drone alone during the day, but two agents are required at night. One is a pilot and the other is a visual observer who constantly monitors the drone. All agents of the agency are trained as visual observers. Pilots must comply with all FAA rules and are not allowed to fly over 400 feet. All drones should be kept in the visual line of sight.

Two or more drones may be used in one operation. This happens when the area covered is large. One drone will fly at one height and the other will fly at another height. Also, the fact that multiple drones work together allows you to keep one in the air while the drone’s battery is charging. Charging usually lasts 30-40 minutes.

The drone sends an image of what you see to the vehicle’s monitor. However, due to privacy issues under government policy, the sheriff’s office will not take pictures or record videos unless it is included in the investigation warrant. The drone can also zoom in to get a clearer image.

Nick Brandt is the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System) Program Coordinator for Fire and Emergency Services. He has been with HCFES since 2009 and has been with the unit since its inception. Brant created a grant to fund the drone unit and then another grant to train operators.
Like the sheriff’s office, HCFES drone operators have other missions besides those related to the unit. Some are EMT. Others like Brant are driver engineers and some are firefighters. Currently, there are 14 certified pilots.

For just the past nine months, drone units have participated in the identification and tracking of brush fires and worked with sheriff offices at the scene of a car accident. In this example, it was a night crash, and while EMT was helping the victims, agents used their drones to look for individuals who could have been kicked out of the vehicle. “It was a quick way to search a large area,” Brandt said.

Drone units have also been deployed in Bay County, Florida Panhandle, helping authorities collect information about wildfires. While they were there, they also helped with the plane crash.

In another case, an individual who fell off a horse and was injured while riding in the Croom Forest area was involved. He was able to call 911 and let the coordinator know his approximate location. The drone operator located the rider and helped guide the EMT to that location. Who knows what happened to this person if the drone didn’t find him?

Another aspect of the drone is that it has a two-dimensional mapping function. This means that you can take multiple pictures that overlap the area and use a computer program to stitch the images together to create one big picture.

“This is especially useful during natural disasters such as hurricanes, heavy thunderstorms that can cause tornadoes, and wildfires. Jump over the damage route to collect this data on the map and use it with the state emergency management team and FEMA. This allows you to see the damage within minutes to hours of the damage so that you can declare the state of the disaster without wearing boots to the state or federal authorities. It’s unbelievably efficient and cost-effective, “Brant said.

There are endless situations in which first responders can and can actually use drones. But the future is not completely rosy. After January 2023, many of these institutions will no longer be allowed to use their current drones. In 2021, the Florida State Assembly passed a bill (Senate Bill 44, Statutory 934.50 Subsection 7) stating that all state agencies must use drones purchased from four selected U.S. companies. did. Currently, most institutions use drones manufactured in China. The reason for passing the bill was a security issue.

Approved vendors for drone procurement are Skydio, Parrot, Altavian, Teal Drones, and Vantage Robotics. Under the new law, approved manufacturers must provide appropriate safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data collected, transmitted, or stored by drones.
A clause that expands companies’ choices to include manufacturers used by the Pentagon was included in another bill submitted to Congress this year (Senate Bill 2512), which the Governor rejected.

Chinese-made drones are technologically advanced and an American company, according to sources from the Hernando County Fire Emergency Services.

“It’s harder to achieve what you can do now, and it’s more costly. [the U.S. companies] Working to catch up [with Chinese technology]But in the meantime, it’s even harder to keep doing what we’re doing, “Brant said.
Another drawback is that these institutions are not compensated for drones that must be returned to funding organizations. And the state doesn’t provide a funding mechanism to buy new drones.

“We are struggling to meet our needs with approved manufacturers through technology and affordability with approved equipment that we were legally told to buy,” Brandt said. continue. “We want to find some private funding sources to buy these other drones to keep the program running. It’s a valuable tool. It’s cost-effective, safe and secure. , Can save lives. ”

Meanwhile, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office and the Hernando County Fire Emergency Services will continue to use the drone in a myriad of situations. Many want the law to be amended in some way, or encourage US companies to improve drone technology and reduce costs.

As with all tasks, a positive “can” attitude is essential.
“This is a technology that never goes away, so we’ll find a way to make it work. We’ll do everything we can. We want to keep the program working within the bounds of the new law. “Brant concludes.

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