Canyon County poised to send drone into skies for aerial surveillance

NAMPA, Idaho — Canyon County officials in southwest Idaho using federal grants have purchased a remote-control drone for aerial surveillance and public safety that can take still photographs, stream video and use thermal infrared video.

The county used U.S. Homeland Security grants to purchase the Draganflyer X6 drone for $33,500 and that should be flying in the next few weeks.

“I see it to be a huge benefit,” Canyon County communications senior officer Christine McPartlan said. “It’s a life-saving tool because if you’re sending personnel into an unknown situation, you never know what’s going to happen. As we get into this we’ll be able to find more uses for it.”

Officials said the drone can be used to help with investigations and surveillance of crime scenes, barricaded subjects, rescue missions and natural disasters.

The drone has six rotors, weighs about 2 pounds and is about 3 feet long. Its battery life is about 15 minutes. The device, according to the manufacturer’s website, can maintain a location automatically by flipping a switch.

Steve Donahue of the Caldwell Fire Department said the Federal Aviation Administration must be notified before the drone is flown and it’s limited to a height of 400 feet. He said the operator must also keep the drone in sight.

“Everybody is always hurting for money and personnel,” he said. “We’re looking at how can we do things smarter and faster.”

Officials said the drone won’t fly over crowds or large bodies of water due to its short 15-minute battery life.

McPartlan said a search warrant would be needed to fly the drone over private property.

“We’re not just going to go fly around people’s private property and invade their privacy,” McPartlan said. “We’re obviously going to use this in a responsible way.”

Donahue, McPartlan and county fleet manager Mark Tolman recently took part in a two-day training session in Saskatoon,Saskatchewan, to learn how to fly the craft.

“You have to be qualified with the FAA” to fly drones, Donahue said. “You have to be a pilot or have been through the ground school.”

Donahue and Tolman are licensed pilots, and McPartlan has been through ground school.