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Amid Growing Drone Use, Public and Private, North Carolina Hosts a Summit

North Carolina government employees, particularly those in emergency response, have been using drones more in recent years.

by Paul B. Johnson The High Point Enterprise / April 24, 2018
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(TNS) — GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — One aspect of the response to the tornado and severe storms that spread extensive damage across parts of the Piedmont will become the focus of a statewide gathering here this summer.

In the wake of the tornado and severe storms crossing Greensboro, Guilford County and Rockingham County, N.C., a week ago, drones have been used by authorities and media outlets to survey the damage and vividly show the destruction.

In recent years, the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation has taken advantage of rapidly advancing drone technology to use drones in emergency situations. Drones helped survey flooding after Hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina and monitor the wildfires in the western part of the state two years ago.

This summer, more than 350 people are expected to attend a statewide drone summit in Guilford County. The 2018 North Carolina Drone Summit and Flight Expo will take place Aug. 5-7 at the Grandover Resort & Conference Center.

“North Carolina is on the leading edge of this fast-growing industry,” said DOT Director of Aviation Bobby Walston.

North Carolina has more than 28,000 drone users registered with the state. The vast majority — about 24,500 — are classified as hobbyists who don’t operate drones to make money commercially. The remaining users are with government agencies or commercial operators.

Drones provide “an eye in the sky” that can help emergency responders on the ground, said James Pearce, public information officer with the state Division of Aviation out of Raleigh.

For example, drones have been used to locate missing children or older adults, Pearce told The High Point Enterprise.

During the wildfires in western North Carolina, drones with thermal cameras allowed fire crews to pinpoint where hot spots remained in wooded areas, he said.

“It’s better than just checking for smoke,” Pearce said.

While drones have given state and local officials new tools, the devices also can present problems when used by people — most often unintentionally — in air space that needs to be reserved for emergency response.

“Part of it is because it’s so new people aren’t ingrained in how to be safe with them,” Pearce said.

Hobbyists shouldn’t fly drones in disaster zones during an official government response.

“If something is going on and there is active public safety activity through drones or helicopters or planes, stay grounded,” he said.

The statewide conference at Grandover Resort intends to highlight the advances and innovation of drones in North Carolina, Pearce said.

“We want to bring worldwide experts here so they can share information with each other about best practices and technology,” he said. “The exchange of ideas is what we are most excited about.”

©2018 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.