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Drones Set to Patrol Atlantic City’s Turbulent Beaches

Riptides and the growing threat of sharks can make swimming dangerous, even deadly, at the popular beaches in Atlantic City, N.J. A new drone program aims to increase safety for beachgoers when lifeguards aren’t on duty.

Atlantic City skyline.
Atlantic City, N.J.
As drones become more affordable, public safety agencies are beginning to find ways that drones can help save lives and help disaster response become more efficient.

Atlantic City, N.J., is an area visited by tourists from all over the world who, along with locals, enjoy the beautiful beaches the area has to offer. Unfortunately, riptides and the growing threat of sharks can make swimming dangerous — even deadly. This is especially true in the early morning hours and late evening hours when no lifeguards are on duty.

That’s where the drones come into play.

The city and partners recently did a series of tests with drones and public safety personnel as they ramp up the use of drones to keep beachgoers safe.

“It’s a great partnership with the National Aerospace Research and Technology Park (NARTP) that we’ve had over the last couple of years,” said Atlantic City Fire Chief and Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Evans, “as drones have been evolving across the country and world and we’re beginning to see them as boots on the ground.”

“The chief is an excellent partner,” said Howard Kyle, president of NARTP. “We have a long relationship with him, and Atlantic City has been extremely progressive in what they’re doing.”

It’s becoming a trend for some in public safety to take advantage of the technology as it finally becomes affordable for government agencies to deploy and use to save lives and make managing emergencies more efficient. “I liken it to thermal imaging,” Evans said. “When thermal imaging came out in the 1990s, the military had already been using it since the ‘60s, but it wasn’t affordable for public safety agencies.”

“The military has been flying drones for a long time and now it’s evolved and has the capability and affordability to be used at the local level to save lives in public safety and help us do our jobs more efficiently and be able to share information and direct resources to where they are needed,” he added.

Atlantic City, along with NARTP, tested the drones along the local beaches with three different focuses.

The first exercise demonstrated how the drones will be used in the early mornings and in the evenings when there are no lifeguards on the beach and beachgoers, especially tourists, are vulnerable to tides and even sharks.

“People come from all around the world here and they wade into the water fully clothed,” Evans said. “This isn’t the Mediterranean Sea — this is a turbulent ocean and people can easily get caught in a riptide. We’ve had drownings in the early mornings and after hours.”

The drones will fly at those times when the tourists are out and vulnerable and will detect where the concentrations of people are and where the tides are the roughest and allocate resources to that area and get people out of the water.

A second exercise consisted of a drone equipped with a floating device that could be dropped right where a struggling or drowning victim was in the water. When the device hits the water it discharges a CO2 cartridge and inflates into a five-foot-long life raft that a troubled swimmer could cling to until help arrives.

The third exercise involved using a drone to communicate with beachgoers or people on the beach when marine life — sharks — was identified nearby.

“We’re seeing more sharks up north along Long Island and Sandy Hook,” Evans said. “These are some of the most populated areas in the world and we’re seeing more and more sharks.”