Crawford County Drones On

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Crawford County Emergency Management Director Jim Hackett sits behind the drone which will be used by emergency management and the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department. The drone can take off from almost any small flat surface, including its carrying case. Once airborne, the drone automatically expands to about four feet across for a more stable flight.


Crawford County gets law enforcement, emergency drone

By Ted Pennekamp


Crawford County is now the proud owner of a state-of-the-art drone that will be deployed in various ways for emergency situations and for law enforcement.

“There are so many possibilities with this drone,” said Emergency Management Director Jim Hackett, who noted that the drone can be used for search and rescue, chemical spills, setting up a perimeter and getting an aerial view during an active shooter situation, finding and displaying the hot spots of a fire, and recording storm damage assessment to present to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, just to name a few.

“This drone can increase the safety of all of our law enforcement and emergency personnel,” said Hackett. “It is the most widely used law enforcement drone.”

Hackett said the drone is a Zenmuse X3 drone made by DJI, which is headquartered in Shenzhen, China, but has offices in several countries, including the United States. It was budgeted for and purchased at a cost of $3,732.80, including accessories. It is a quad-copter and will be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The drone has a charging station that can charge six batteries at once, and a traveling case that can carry it ready to fly so it can be rapidly deployed. The four quick add propellers can be attached in a matter of seconds, and there  is a set of four extra props.

Hackett said there are seven batteries, with one being used by the drone at any given time. The drone can fly for up to eight hours and then be back in the air in a half-hour. Battery insulators can also increase battery life in cold weather.

The drone is equipped with a high-definition camera that can take video or still photographs with just the push of a button. “It’s got an easy one-finger operation,” said Hackett. The camera also sends a live feed for the operator to view on the control screen. Hackett said the camera is on a gimble mount and can turn up or down and 360 degrees. It can also zoom in to magnify the view by 3X.

The camera also has a GPS system that can pinpoint the location of the video or photo on a map. Hackett said the drone can also pre-program flight paths and pre-determine a flight grid, which it will not fly out of. There are several sensors to prevent the drone from hitting objects such as power lines, Hackett said.

“The drone can return home on a low battery. It will let you know when the battery is low and will automatically return. It also has auto-take off and auto-land.”

Hackett said the drone can go as high as 400 feet and as far away as 1.5 miles. It can also fly indoors to give emergency personnel a view of what is going on inside of a building, such as a chemical spill, for example. “It will let firefighters and other emergency personnel see exactly what they’re dealing with before they decide to go in,” said Hackett.

In the case of an active shooter, the drone can let officers know if anyone has gone into, or come out of, a house, for example. The drone can set up a perimeter and display an aerial view of the situation. Hackett said it can hover next to a window to give officers a view of what is going on inside. “Drones are replaceable, people aren’t,” said Hackett.

The drone is also capable of dropping a small payload, such as first aid medical supplies, to people who are stranded in a hard to reach area.

Hackett said that Crawford County will be joining the Wisconsin Emergency Management Network through which  they can request the use of drones and operators from other jurisdictions.

“One phone call and I can get all of the resources I need. We can get the best pilots for the situation and also help to eliminate pilot fatigue by having more than one pilot,” said Hackett, who noted that pilots (drone operators) need to get training and pass a test in order to get their unmanned aerial vehicle license. He said that the head of the network knows what each pilot’s capabilities are. Crawford County will soon have a few employees take the training and get their license.

The county will also be getting liability insurance regarding the operation of the drone, and may get full coverage.

Some other jurisdictions have drones with infrared cameras for night missions, and Hackett said Crawford County is also looking into getting an infrared camera for its drone.

Once the county has insurance and the pilots have their licenses, the county’s tactical team will be training with the drone so that they become accustomed to its operation and all of its capabilities, said Hackett.

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