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Flagler County, Fla., Incorporates Drones into Rescue Efforts

Drones are finding their stride in the county, having already been used to find a missing kayaker. They are also being considered by the Flagler Beach Fire Department to deliver life preservers to swimmers.

by Zach Dean, The Daytona Beach News-Journal / November 13, 2020

(TNS) — Flagler County has an eye in the sky, and it's saving lives.

Last month, Airspace Link, a company that partners with local governments to expand drone innovation, praised the county's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Team (UAS), saying it was "paving the way" for the rest of the state with its implementation of safe drone highways in the sky.

“We are thrilled to see the immediate benefit our technology is providing, like helping first responders with search and rescue missions," said Lisa Peterson, Vice President of Business Development for Airspace Link.

Airspace Link, located in Detroit, provides an FAA-approved solution for Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). The company also provides a ground-based risk assessment for drone programs which allows pilots to have a better understanding of the location of ground-based risks, including schools, and cell phone and radio towers.

The company said a recent search and rescue mission for a local kayaker is just the latest example of how Flagler is successfully implementing drones.

In September, the county issued the advisory during the early hours of the search, and the drone team deployed when search helicopters had to leave the area for refueling.

Matt Adams, Flagler's UAS Coordinator, said the county's drone program has assisted in multiple search and rescue missions this year as it continues to grow.

"It's becoming more common" said Adams, who graduated from Embry-Riddle in 2018 and has been the UAS Coordinator since last year. "We actually just got a new drone that has thermal imaging on it, so any time now there's a search and rescue mission, our hope is they're going to call us out and we'll assist them with that."

Adams said when the program originally started in 2019 it was used mostly by advertisers in the area, but has since evolved. This upcoming burn season, the drones will also be deployed to help with prescribed burns in the area.

"We can find if there's any flare-ups elsewhere outside of the fire, because we can notice those a lot quicker than anyone else." Adams said, adding that he hopes to continue assisting with local law enforcement. "We're also working with our dispatch team to set in place an actual call-out message, so soon they'll be paging us as a unit, just like they would a fire truck, officer, things like that."

A short ways down the road, the plan is to expand beyond land as well.

"Flagler Beach Fire Department wants to use them to drop life preservers when people get caught in a rip-current," Adams said. "We have the capability, but we just haven't trained on it quite yet."

Adams said the program has also been called upon to survey areas before and after a storm, including two years ago with Hurricane Dorian.

The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office recently told The St. Augustine Record they use drones in similar events.

"It's brilliant for disaster relief," Deputy Ernest Edwards said, adding that earlier this week officials used a drone to help track down a missing student in the St. Johns area.

Airspace Link President and CEO Michael Healander said that continued innovation is crucial going forward.

“Everyone wins with a safety-first mindset," he added. "Putting in the digital infrastructure necessary to enable compliant and safer drone flights provides the safety benefits needed today that are critical to opening up the unlocked potential of drone scalable industry applications that will drive future economic growth."

©2020 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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