Klickitat County-based Insitu hopes to make unmanned aircraft a high-tech reality for public safety agencies

YAKIMA, Wash. — A police officer pulls up to a home to check on a report of a missing child. Within minutes, he’s taken a miniature plane from his patrol car’s trunk and sent it up to look over the area where the child was last seen.

Across town, a fire chief wants to know whether it’s safe to put his crews on the roof of a burning home. Using the same type of unmanned aircraft, the chief can see whether the fire has already reached the zone he wants to attack.

Scenarios like these may be possible in the next few years through the work of Bingen-based Insitu and others in the unmanned aerial vehicle industry.

“There will come a day when every fire truck and police car will have an unmanned aircraft as a component of its equipment,” predicted Don Shinnamon, a business development executive for Insitu.

“That literally is on the horizon,” he said.

Shinnamon, a retired police chief and fire department director who is a helicopter and fixed-wing pilot, and other company officials gave a presentation last week to about 15 representatives from fire departments, law enforcement agencies and search and rescue organizations as a precursor to a statewide Search and Rescue Conference in Goldendale this weekend.

Insitu sponsored the conference, an annual event that draws several hundred search and rescue officials and volunteers from the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Insitu — Klickitat County’s largest employer with 800 employees — started in 1994 as a private business focused on finding uses for unmanned aerial observation in the maritime industry, such as fishing. Now a subsidiary of The Boeing Co., Insitu has become a leading provider of drone-based video reconnaissance for the U.S. military.