County eyes drone purchase

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Drones have a variety of uses in today’s world and they are becoming an increasingly vital tool for law enforcement and emergency personnel. (Submitted photo)

By Ted Pennekamp

Drones are being used for many purposes these days, some of which include farming applications like monitoring field health, personal recreation and videos, getting aerial views of sporting events or concerts, delivery of small items, keeping an eye on wildlife, and for mapping and archeological surveys.

Evermore, drones are also becoming a vital tool for first responders, fire departments and law enforcement. In fact, Crawford County Emergency Management is eyeing the possibility of getting a drone in the near future.

“The Crawford County Emergency Management Office/Sheriff’s Office is currently looking at purchasing a drone for use in public safety,” said Emergency Management Director Jim Hackett. “We have priced out the equipment. Crawford County Emergency Management does have enough money in its budget this year to purchase a drone and camera, but it’s going to the Public Safety Committee for approval before using the funds to purchase a drone.”

Hackett said a thermal imaging camera would not be included in the drone purchase and such a camera would have to be bought separately.

Upon buying a drone, the county will then look to either write grants or budget the following year for a thermal imaging camera for the drone, said Hackett, who noted that the drone is $2,000 and thermal imaging cameras can range from $6,000 to $20,000, depending on the quality.

“The Emergency Management Office is going to try to budget for one (thermal imaging camera) in the $8,000 range in its future budgets and grant writing attempts,” said Hackett. “Since the Emergency Management Office is under the sheriff’s office, this gives the sheriff’s office full access to the drone. It could be used for many different applications. Currently, we are relying on surrounding counties to support with drones. Vernon County Emergency Management and Grant County Emergency Management both have drones with thermal imaging systems.”

A drone came into use the night of Aug. 20 this past summer to rescue six people in Allamakee County, Iowa. The six got lost while tubing on the Yellow River.

At about 7 p.m., the Allamakee County Sheriff’s Department called the Decorah Fire Department for assistance through the use of their drone. It only took about 10 minutes to find the first three of the six stranded. They used a thermal imaging camera that was attached to the drone to spot them.

A two-way radio had also been tied to the drone, which was dropped down so the sheriff’s department was able to talk to the stranded people. This communication helped to find the three other people.

The Allamakee County Emergency Management is also looking into purchasing a drone.

Given the amount of people out enjoying the great outdoors in the relatively rough terrain of the Driftless Region, drones with thermal imaging cameras can be quite a benefit.

For safety reasons as well as archeological mapping, the staff at Effigy Mounds National Monument is also looking into the possibility of getting a drone.

“We have definitely given it some thought,” said Effigy Mounds Superintendent Jim Nepstad.

Nepstad also said, however, that the National Park Service (NPS) has banned the use of drones in NPS areas across the country.

“They’re not impossible to use, but the process is difficult, even for NPS uses,” said Nepstad.

 “At Effigy Mounds National Monument, we have been considering the acquisition of a drone for a variety of uses. Providing aerial video footage of the mounds is one potential use, but, as we saw this summer, they can be remarkably useful in search and rescue operations as well. Being able to search for lost visitors in rugged terrain and in the dark is a very safe alternative to walking through the woods on a night search.”

Nepstad said there are several hoops Effigy Mounds will have to jump through in order to get a drone.

“We have to get an employee licensed to operate one, and we have to seek permission from higher levels of the NPS,” Nepstad said. “I can imagine us going through that process one day, but I have no idea when that might be.”

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