Genesee County Emergency Management Services received its first drone today, the department’s coordinator reported to the county legislature’s Public Service Committee.
Tim Yaeger said the drone, which actually is the county’s second (the Health Department also has one), will be used in situations involving hazardous materials, fire, search & rescue and other public safety issues.
He said the drone cost about $11,000 and was bought with Homeland Security funds. The type of drone that could be purchased, and the policies and procedures governing its use are set by New York State.
"In public safety terms, this is a beginner's drone," Yaeger said. "We wanted to start small and expand based on need."
Yaeger said the applications are varied -- from damage assessment to situational awareness to assistance in active fires and post-fire investigation to search-and-rescue operations. The drone features a thermal imaging camera attached to the regular camera.
One person has been trained as a pilot and a couple others will follow in that role, Yaeger said, noting that training will take place at the State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany.
Public demonstrations will take place in the near future, he advised.
Yaeger said drones were one of the topics discussed at the 2021 Homeland Security Conference in Las Vegas from Aug. 29-Sept. 3. He was able to represent Genesee with expenses paid for by a grant provided to the county.
“We’re beginning to see drones up in the air and flying illegally, outside of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certifications that they were given,” he said. “It’s something to be on the radar – that we have to look at for primarily large gathering facilities. Darien Lake comes to mind.”
He said that people are using drones to drop basketballs filled with contraband into prison yards.
“A basketball with things that aren’t supposed to be in prison, like cell phones. They fly over the top of the fence and they drop the basketball. The basketball bounces and they think it’s just recreational equipment that was left out by someone,” he said. “Now, they’re tracking these and it was an absolutely amazing technology.”
Yaeger also said technology is being utilized by emergency management and law enforcement to combat civil unrest.
“Getting better information and critical information back to the EOCs (Emergency Operations Centers) and back to law enforcement and 911 Centers,” he said. “It’s just coming faster and faster as we move through these uses of technology.”
He said emergency managers are being instructed to consider diversity in their communities in developing operational strategies.
“How we operated 30 years ago when fire, EMS and law enforcement within our population is not how we should be operating today. So, there are a lot of lessons learned by us reaching out to those communities,” he said. “Sometimes were in a silo and we think we know what those citizens are thinking … “
Yaeger said his staff will look at examples of communities that have initiated effective outreach programs.
Conference seminars also dealt with the collapse of the apartment complex in Florida and cybersecurity, Yaeger reported.
Ninety-eight people died when the 12-story Champlain Towers South collapsed in Surfside, near Miami, in the early morning hours of June 24.
Calling it a “very depressing event,” Yaeger said the seminar provided insight into "the psyche of the first responders to go to an event with very few survivors if any, and how we treat those first responders mentally to deal with those types of things … and also seeing those first responders deal with the anguish and disappointment that they’re not able to help.”
“It was not a very uplifting presentation but it was very well done,” he noted. “Just to see what other communities have done and how they deal with those mental issues that are out there, for not just the families of the victims … but, more importantly, from our perspective, the first responders and how to deal with that.”
On the subject of cybersecurity, he said National Grid personnel are concerned about the vulnerability of infrastructure, telecommunications, power systems and transportation systems.
He said emergency managers need to have a contingency plan in the event of a cyber-attack.