Canyon County drone to be shared by sheriff, fire department

Draganflyer X6 UAV insured up to $5 million

Written by Shawn Musgrave

The Canyon County Sheriff’s Office hopes to use a Draganflyer drone for aerial reconnaissance ranging from search-and-rescue operations to “active shooter situations,” according to documents released through the Drone Census.

CCSO is the first agency responding to the census with plans for joint operation between law enforcement and local fire service, as well as the first to release unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) insurance documentation.

The CCSO purchased its Draganflyer X6 UAV in February 2012 with funding from the Idaho Homeland Security Bureau. The sheriff’s office first launched inquiries into UAV technology in May 2011, when CCSO’s senior communications officer began exchanging emails with a representative from Canadian drone manufacturer Draganfly Innovations, Inc. (Draganfly is also the UAV manufacturer of choice for law enforcement in Seattle, Mesa County, Austin and Alameda County).

The final invoice indicates that CCSO’s Draganflyer X6 comes complete with the “Emergency Services Configuration.” The UAV system includes both digital still and HD video cameras and FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) equipment for thermal imaging, all at a price tag of $33,500. The Canyon County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase in a 10-minute meeting on February 10, 2012, according to released Commissioners’ Minutes.

Like other UAVs acquired by law enforcement around the country, CCSO’s was purchased with homeland security funding. Idaho’s State Homeland Security Program reimbursed Canyon County for the equipment purchase, and also covered costs for six operators to attend training at Draganfly’s headquarters in Saskatoon, Canada. According to a November 2011 email between the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security and CCSO, the purchase was authorized via “Grant funds under ‘surveillance equipment.’”

While CCSO included no written policy outlining authorized uses for its UAV, several documents shed light on what sort of missions the drone might fly within Canyon County. In a February 2012 statement to Canada Border Services Agency, Canyon County said that the Draganflyer X6 “will only be used for civilian purposes, and [is] not intended for military use,” as well as indicated that the unit was to be used “for mitigating emergency situations.”

While CCSO spearheaded the application for a Federal Aviation Administration waiver to operate drones, the nearby Caldwell Fire Department will also be authorized to fly the unit. Three trained operators will pilot the UAV, including an emergency dispatcher, the county fleet manager and a Caldwell Fire Deputy Chief.

According to an undated press release, the system “will be available to all law enforcement, fire departments, emergency responders and emergency management personnel within Canyon County.”

The press release lists uses for “many different emergency and disaster situations,” including surveying water rescue situations, remote site reconnaissance and assessment of crime, accident and disaster scenes. Released Commissioners’ Minutes further suggest the drone may be useful for “active shooter situations.”

For now, however, the Canyon County UAV is limited to training flights within a narrow section of the county. The FAA approved the CCSO to operate its Draganflyer under standard conditions for law enforcement UAVs: daylight operations below 400 feet and away from populated areas or airports, only within visual sight of the operator. This authorization is “for the sole purpose of training and development of safety/operational procedures for future operations,” and restricts flights to a mile-diameter swath away from towns.

The FAA waiver released to MuckRock was valid from December 19, 2011 through December 18, 2012. Additional documents indicate that CCSO applied to reauthorize its waiver in November 2012. CCSO requested “greater operational effectiveness” in its reapplication.

CCSO is the only agency so far to disclose details of insurance coverage for its UAV system. Released documents include an insurance proposal from Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Inc. dated October 4, 2012. This proposal set $5 million accident liability for the Draganflyer X6 from Westchester Fire Insurance Co. for injury and property damage caused by the aircraft. The $1773 annual premium also covers damage to the UAV itself.

The Canyon County Commissioners unanimously approved the insurance proposal and signed the policy on October 10, 2012.


Image via AINonline