Usage of small "quadcopters" awaiting development of county council policy for deployment
The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) recently purchased three unmanned aerial systems – otherwise known as drones – for use during rescue situations. However, due to civil liberty and safety concerns, the County Council requested that all drones be grounded until a policy is developed surrounding the use of the drones.
Currently, there are three small "quadcopter" drones owned by the MCFRS. The commercially available drones come equipped with a camera and cost less than $1000 apiece. The drones are able to reach a height between 25 and 30 feet. According to Neil Greenberger, legislative information officer and spokesperson of the Montgomery County council, drones will be used to analyze the structural stability of a burning building and help firefighters analyze the situation. "The department of fire and rescue can fly the drones to see where the fire is originating from and potentially prevent firemen from entering dangerous situations or put out the fire faster, as well as find people in the building in need of being rescued," Greenberger said. However, drones might also be used during other rescue scenarios, such as natural disasters, large structure fires and search and rescue operations.
In September, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department presented the drones to the County Council's Public Safety Committee and mentioned experimenting with the drones in a pilot program. Following a meeting on Sept. 23, the County Council proposed a resolution requesting that county executive Isiah Leggett ground the drones indefinitely until official protocols on drone use are developed and approved by the Council. Leggett brought up privacy concerns expressed by Montgomery County residents surrounding the drone program. "A lot of people, not only in the county, but throughout the country are concerned with drone use. Anyone can buy a drone cheaply and attach a camera, and therefore misuse is an issue," Greenberger said. "The county must be ensured that the drones will only be used for the right purposes and possessed by the right people."
There has also been controversy surrounding the safety of the drones. "Depending on how high a drone can fly, it can interfere with small aircrafts that fly lower to the ground and could possibly interfere with their signals," said Greenberger. Over the next few months, Leggett and his staff will be drafting a policy that will cover how public safety departments will handle the drones. Upon completion, the county council will review and determine whether the drone program will be pursued. "As of now anything is possible," Greenberger said, "The drone issue isn't just in Montgomery, it's an issue for the whole country."
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