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Protecting their own by training with drones

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Nov. 22, 2022 - 4:56 PM

Protecting their own by training with drones

Sam Smith

Nic Burgess practices with one of Coweta County’s new drones purchased to help multiple departments in their work.

By Laura Camper

Coweta County is putting together a Drone Response Team with members from the fire department, the sheriff’s office, 911 and Emergency Management Agency, GIS office and facilities.

Patrol Deputy Sam Smith, who has been a drone hobbyist for about two years, is one of 10 pilots in training for the team.

“Flying a drone is not that hard as long as you don’t start doing crazy stuff with it,” Smith said.

He knows they can be fun and useful. He’s used his drone to take pictures and video while on vacation. As a member of the Newnan Ham Radio Club, he used his drone to take pictures of the structure of a water tower where the club members planned to install a radio repeater antenna, alleviating the need to climb the tower for surveillance.

But as a hobbyist, he’s not allowed to fly his drone over people, at night or in other more hazardous situations. To do that, Smith and the other pilots have to get their Part 107 license. For that license, they have to pass a very detailed test, he said. They are scheduled to take that test soon, Smith said.

But they have already been practicing with the drones. For instance, they have used drones to practice peering into a car looking for weapons and suspects while the team members stood a safe distance away. It’s just one more way that the drones can help protect lives, Smith said.

“I’m really excited about the drones,” he said.

Nic Burgess, EMA coordinator, said the Drone Response Team will be a deployable unit, “anytime you need drones – that can be a missing person, to a SWAT callout, to a surveillance of a large event,” Burgess said.

Earlier this year, an older woman was missing in the Old Roberts Road area, said Michael Terrell, Coweta County 911 and EMA director. The county called another agency to search by drone.

“If we’d had our own drones, we could have flown all three drones in the area for probably an extended period of time,” Terrell said. “We’ve had several incidents where we’ve needed to have those capabilities. The tornado was a huge one as well.”

Drones could have helped with damage assessment or a search for survivors, he said. In fact, the tornado became an impetus for purchasing the drones, he said.

The county purchased three drones for a total of about $8,500 per drone, Terrell said. Administrators are trying to look at the purchase as it applies to the whole county, he said.

“GIS is involved because they want to use it for mapping,” Terrell said. “Facilities is involved because they want to fly drones over county facilities to make sure there’s no damage, damage assessment, or if they want to do an upgrade, they can get a real view.”

The new drones have the capability of picking up heat signatures allowing the pilots to see people even in the dark, Terrell said.

“It’s a minimal cost, we feel, to have the capabilities that we think will be able to save lives,” Terrell said.

The drones were purchased with the county’s capital funds at the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 and the county received them in early November.