OKC Fire Department Considers Use Of Drones For Emergency Response

Friday, August 28th 2015, 9:52 am
By: News 9

A child lost in the woods, tornado damage surveyed for survivors -- both lengthy missions were done on foot. But now, first responders are letting their imaginations fly with the possible use of drones.

The technology has yet to be cleared for takeoff, but the list of benefits is soaring.

"It's a tremendous value," said OKC Fire Chief Keith Bryant. “There are a lot of things that continue to pop up."

So Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant is having firefighter and unmanned aircraft system hobbyist, Julian Gaona, survey all the possibilities.

"This is something that's a lot less expensive,” said firefighter Julian Gaona.

The department surveyed the possible use of drones during practice runs. But these practice runs can quickly turn into very real disasters.

During spring floods, aerial images could find access points, even life jackets could be flown to save stranded drivers. And likely the most common use -- tornadoes. With a bird's eye view, crews can check survivors and geothermal imagery could locate those trapped under debris.

But those operations aren't in sight right now.

"We'll treat this technology just like we have other technology in the past and try to make our best determination and how to use it," said Chief Bryant.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is also in the determination process for UAS use by emergency responders. So Chief Bryant was invited to the nation’s capital to meet with the DOJ.

Privacy concerns hover as the ACLU states drones could be used for "monitoring conversations," or even "peering into the window of a home or place of worship."

"Gave them some assurance this technology won't be used in an inappropriate or illegal manner," Chief Bryant said.

One thing is for sure, crews are grounded in the belief the benefits are priceless.

"You can risk a drone, you know, for a life, easily," Gaona said.

Even though Chief Bryant felt progress was made at the recent meeting, he feels Oklahoma City won't be in full use of drones for about another two years.