Indiana Police, Firefighters Increasingly Rely on Drones

Emergency response systems in Indiana have saved lives and cut costs with the simple act of using drones instead of helicopters.

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According to NPR affiliate WBAA, Indiana police and fire departments are increasingly utilizing drone technology to help them manage emergency situations more safely and methodically.

Drones are not only highly efficient in search and rescue operations by providing a bird’s-eye view to those on the ground, but increasingly affordable and sophisticated in the kind of data they can collect. The fact that those responsible for keeping people safe are eager to use this tool as a practical asset in their day-today-work makes complete sense, but there are still a few regulatory hurdles to overcome. 

While the Federal Aviation Administration is slowly attempting to implement drones into various industries nationwide through its UAS Integration Pilot Program (which has companies securely testing their services in territories across the U.S.), things simply aren’t moving fast enough. Scientists are urging the government to be less risk-averse in legislating drone regulations, and the World Economic Forum just launched an initiative to hasten drone policy, as well. For Indiana police and firefighters, however, the tangible benefits and uses have already been demonstrated well enough, as unmanned aerial vehicles have become an invaluable tool in their work. 

“I cannot state how much value and how much or a resource multiplier it has been for us,” said Shafter Baker, chief pilot of Indiana’s Noble County Sheriff’s Department. “I only wish we had the drones sooner than we had them.” Baker even claims that other first responder groups have contacted him for advice on how to start their own drone programs related to search and rescue.

While many police departments can rely on helicopters to aid them during emergencies that require aerial support, this is not only costly, but in 2016, the Noble County Sheriff’s Department didn’t even have its own aircraft. It relied on hiring a chopper for approximately $400 per hour, if necessary, which made the purchase of camera-drones a no-brainer. It now costs Baker and his officers a mere $20 per hour to use these UAVs in vital, everyday operations. And while vastly cheaper, it’s the practicality that is the real draw, here.

“There’s no standing by and waiting for the state police to be contacted to bring a helicopter out,” said Deputy Brandon Chordas. He realized the advantage of implementing drones in his work the very first time he brought one along on an emergency call, when a child was last seen getting off a school bus and quickly went missing. “We went out and flew around the area,” he explained. “We cleared probably six square miles in an hour.” 

Of course, not everyone is as enthusiastic, as providing authorities with sophisticated camera-drones makes a substantial portion of the public wary and concerned over potential legal overreach and privacy invasion. 

“When we first got into the UAV business a few years ago there was a lot of uproar over privacy issues with the drones,” admitted Captain Michael Pruitt of the Wayne Township Fire Department. 

We recently reported on the ACLU’s hesitancy to provide authorities with an arsenal of UAVs, rooted in the concern that they’d be used against the public in nefarious, insidious ways. The Drone-related privacy concern is admittedly also as simple as not wanting a peeping drone outside your bedroom window, which makes overall implementation a tricky conversation to have.

For Pruitt, of course, the drone use in firefighting has been nothing but positive, and responsible for saving lives that might otherwise have been lost. “We’ve covered just about everything possible with the drones,” said Pruitt. “We’ve conducted with the search and rescue operations, like the incident involving the young boy in Columbus.” He added that UAVs will eventually, inevitably become part of every fire department’s set of tools to save lives. Ultimately, that seems pretty likely, and as long as there are checks and balances on every law enforcement agency that uses them, the net results seem fairly positive. At least for Hoosiers who were rescued or found by a drone, the increased UAV implementation seems like a pretty great idea.