Drones having impact on public safety in Anderson County

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By Stan Welch
A year after the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office launched its drone program, the department has certified ten pilots, and has two units available on a twenty four hour basis.
Certification is confirmed by the Federal Aviation Authority and assures the safe operation of the four drone units that the ACSO has on duty. Of the four drones, two are assigned to uniform patrol, making them much more readily available for use. Equipped with extremely sensitive cameras, the units can be used for a variety of purposes. They are used to seek and locate suspects, as well as potentially vulnerable citizens, of all ages. Both functions have been performed more than once since the program launched. The cameras provide real time views of the scene and situation. Also equipped with speakers, the units can instruct a suspect to comply with instructions, or encourage a vulnerable citizen to remain stationary until help arrives.
One is assigned to special operations, such as SWAT units, and one is assigned to the emergency management division. In at least one SWAT operation, the drone pilot was able to locate the various points that the suspect was using to exit and enter the building during the standoff. That information allowed the SWAT team to pinpoint and capture the suspect without incident. The drones can also provide valuable training for various units. Lt, Benninger, who oversees the program, said that ‘SWAT teams often review operations recorded by the drones in order to review and improve operations.
Fire departments also review videos of their operations and techniques. The drones, with infrared capacity can locate and identify hot spots in fire scenes; letting firefighters squelch them without waiting for them to flare up hours later, resulting in additional call outs. Following significant weather events, the emergency management unit can provide an overview of damages and conditions on the ground.
The city of Anderson also has its own drone, as do Oconee and Greenville counties. Binninger wasn’t sure of Pickens county’s situation, but said if they didn’t have one yet, they were almost certainly exploring the possibility. “These units are economical, versatile, and much quicker to respond than a helicopter, “ he said. He added that the ACSO still has a helicopter in its toolbox. “The drone doesn’t replace the chopper, but they certainly complement each other.”