Green Guide

INDIANA EXCHANGE: Conservation officer OK'd to fly drones

Posted 4:01 a.m. Tuesday

— An Indiana conservation officer who covers Howard and Tipton counties is one of the first law enforcement officers in the state authorized to fly an unmanned aircraft system on search-and-rescue missions.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division last week became the first state emergency response agency to receive official endorsement to utilize Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, more commonly known as drones, for search-and-rescue operations, the Kokomo Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/2gIs7EV).

Officer Matt Garringer, who serves in IDNR law district 4, which includes Howard and Tipton counties, is one of just five conservation officers who have been certified to fly the aircrafts. The agency currently owns two of the drones, which are stationed in Wayne County and near Lake Michigan.

Capt. Keith Dinn, support services assistant commander for the new SUAS unit, said the aircrafts will greatly enhance officers' ability to quickly find lost children, hikers, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and injured people.

"The training and expertise our certified pilots have received gives me confidence that our officers and other emergency responding agencies will have a much higher rate of success in locating citizens in need with a much quicker response time," he said in a news release.

DNR spokesman Capt. William Browne said the drones are manned with a high-tech camera which can stream live video to other officers on the ground. The aircrafts can also instantly send detailed global coordinates.

Browne said the drones can fly well over a mile from the pilot, and get as high as a low-flying helicopter. They also are equipped to drop ropes to people during water-rescue missions.

Along with the ability to locate lost citizens, the aircrafts will map out the environmental obstacles emergency-response personnel will face before blindly encountering them.

"There are so many possibilities with these units," he said. "That's what's really cool."

Using the drones should also cut back on the use of helicopters and boats on search missions, which are expensive to bring out.

"Up to this point, when we had a lost person, it was boots on the ground and ATVs and it took forever," Browne said. "We brought in helicopters and boats. Now, we've got units that cost $3,500 that can search a mile-and-a-half area that can locate and pinpoint victims, and these high-ticket items aren't going to be brought on."

He said although some law enforcement agencies in the state have used drones on missions, the DNR is the first agency to get official authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aircraft.

DNR Law Enforcement Director Danny East said the new drone unit is "an innovative and futuristic step forward to enhance our search and rescue response capabilities to reach our citizens in need."

Browne said the drones will be used solely for search-and-rescue missions, and citizens should not be concerned about governmental misuse of the units.

"Some citizens are afraid we will be poking our nose into their business, and that is not going to happen," he said.

Browne said although the IDNR currently only operates two drones, the agency hopes to have one in all 10 law-enforcement districts by the end of 2017.

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