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Clarke County now has a drone for public safety

Clarke County Emergency Management is now equiped with a drone for search and rescue operations.

The new technology arrived a little over two weeks ago and E.M. Coodinator Byron Jimmerson has been learning to set up, operate and effectively use the drone. An FAA license is required to fly the drone.

The drone is fully stocked with two cameras, a 4K resolution camera and a thermal imaging camera, strobe light for FAA compliance and search light and four batteries. A smaller drone also came with the package to be used as a less expensive training tool. The small drone may also have future use in search and rescue inside buildings.

“Instead of sending a person in and putting them in harm’s way, the theory is that we can actually fly this in and kind of get an eye and see what’s going on,” said Jimmerson.

The whole project was started in September of 2017 after three hunters had gotten lost in Steven’s State Forest. The question of getting a drone kept being tossed around by responders who where searching for the hunters, knowing thermal imaging could have expidited the search. At the time, the closest drones available were either in Ottumwa or Montgomery County.

“We were drone poor for public safety in the bottom two tiers of our region,” said Jimmerson.

Jimmerson then got approval to pursue the project from the Emergency Management Commision and went after 13 different funding sources after researching drones and the best companies to go with.

“The project was just over $15,000 with all the accessories and components that go with it,” said Jimmerson.

With all the funds being either private donations, organization donations or grants, no tax money was used to obtain the drone package.

The money came from a CCOPS grant, an ICAP grant, a CCICF grant, a Clarke Electric grant, a Rotary donation, a Spielberg Foundation donation, a Wellmark grant, an American Legion donation, an Aliant Energy Foundation grant, a matching Pillars grant as well as a $700 discount from DSLR Pro’s, the drone company.

“They market photographers and movie makers but when they go to the public safety side of things ... they try to help the project along,” said Jimmerson.

The drone has a second camera or ‘pilot view’ camera so two people can run the drone, one to fly and one specifically to be looking at the screen. Running the drone for a search and rescue mission will be a team effort. Licensed operators will be needed to fly the drone, while others will be needed to replace the four different batteries on the power inverter in order to have a continuous search, and many will be needed to watch the 39-inch TV monitor that Jimmerson can hook up from the drone’s controller to get more eyes on the area.

“Basically a crowdsourcing kind of thing, get more eyes on it,” said Jimmerson.

Since Clarke County filled the gap for the bottom two tiers in Emergency Management’s Homeland Security region, the drone will be shared, if available.

“If any of the surrounding counties were to call, if we’re available, we’ll send it,” said Jimmerson.

Only two people in Clarke County are FAA licensed to fly the drone now, but others are working toward it. Jimmerson plans to obtain a license to be able to train people within Clarke County Emergency Management so other first responders can use the drone or take it if another county is in need.

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