New drone to enhance emergency operations

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When Bedford County Emergency Management Agency bought its first drone in 2015, Bedford County became one of the first rural counties in Middle Tennessee with the capability. Since that time, BCEMA acquired a second drone, and the two devices have proven invaluable to various county emergency services and operations.

Drones can be used to search for lost children, dementia patients or escaped prisoners. They can help find kayakers lost on the Duck River, including at night. They can be used in SWAT team operations. Both of Bedford County’s current drones have forward-looking infrared (FLIR) night vision imaging capability. Drones are a key part of providing security and traffic control at major events, whether that means the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the Webb School Art & Craft Festival, or a large public protest.

But drone technology has advanced and changed in the years since the first drone was purchased. It has become more difficult to obtain batteries and parts for the older units. Meanwhile, new drones have better battery life, better flight range, and advanced tracking capabilities.

That’s why BCEMA has purchased a new DJI 300 heavy-duty drone to replace its initial DJI Inspire drone. The original drone had a maximum rated flight time of 18 minutes; the new drone can stay aloft for 55 minutes. The original drone had a range of three miles; the new drone, nine miles. The new drone can fly in light rain, something neither of the existing drones can do, and in cold weather. It can support up to three cameras and has high-quality thermal imaging, a rangefinder and a smart controller. Its smart tracking features can be locked in on a vehicle and can automatically follow that subject.

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The drone operator can watch a split screen of normal camera imagery and thermal imagery.

The drone can even play a recorded message. In one case, when searching for a kayaker in distress, the drone played a recorded message asking the kayaker to wave so that he could be seen and identified.

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The new drone’s more robust performance and added features are expected to make it more useful all around, said BCEMA director Scott Johnson, who thanked County Mayor Chad Graham for helping to find the funds to purchase the device.

“We’re happy to use our drones to support all of Bedford County’s emergency response agencies,” said Johnson. This new drone will enhance our abilities, and better tools help us serve more effectively.”

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