It’s Not All About Getting High

Drones can do all sorts of things.

Alicia McConnell of Michael Baker Intl. shows off slides of night flights and missions to Burma.

In the words of one of today’s panelists on the MACo Summer Conference panel, The Underappreciated Upsides of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a drone program is much like a cannabis business — it’s not all about getting high.

The six panelists from various county government agencies, state government, and the private sector shared many applications for county use, including:

  • Surveying
  • Construction monitoring
  • Media, sharing county news with residents
  • Communications and public relations
  • Community education about drones
  • Next Generation 9-1-1 mapping
  • Inspections
  • Emergency response
  • Fire rescue
  • Law enforcement community outreach
  • Internships programs and youth education

Panelists also shared advice for county departments interested in starting-up a drone program. They shared input about:

  • Standard operating procedures (to convince your department you need a program)
  • Pilot training (you need it)
  • Consultants (they will train you)
  • Contractors (or just hire pilots)
  • Incident checklists (for when things go wrong)
  • Insurance needs (because things will go wrong)
  • Types of drones (tech speak: “airframes”)
  • Data management (for all those aerial images)
  • Useful flight apps (depending on your interests)

All panelists emphasized the need for a professional approach to drone use. In the words of one panelist, himself a former airplane pilot,

“These are not toys. They are aircraft, operating the national airspace. Each use should have a pre-flight plan, a post-flight plan, trained pilots.”

For counties starting out, consultants and counties with existing programs can be helpful guides, according to the experts at MACo’s Summer Conference Tech Expo.