Naperville is the proud owner of a $1,199 drone.
Now, the city has to decide what to do with it.
On Tuesday, the city council asked the fire department to prepare a policy for how the new drone will be used — and how it won’t be used.
Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said his department bought the drone about a month ago with several potential uses in mind, such as flying over railroad hazardous materials spills to snap photos of the codes used to identify certain chemicals or providing an aerial view of a search and rescue operation.
Firefighters haven’t taken the flying camera device for a spin yet because standard operating procedures for drone use have not yet been created, he said.
And now those procedures are exactly what council members, led by Mayor Steve Chirico, want the fire chief to create.
“It will ease some concerns with some of our residents about the use of this technology and making sure it’s being used properly,” Chirico said.
Resident Todd Peterson addressed the council Tuesday with some of his concerns, mainly that drones can be misused to watch a child walking home from school, for example, or spy on activity at a neighborhood playground. He also called for a policy on city drone use to ensure the new device won’t be used inappropriately.
“The use of drones does have a very good purpose,” Peterson said. “I just want to make sure we’re very careful that we understand there is a downside that is, in my opinion, large.”
The drone use policy Puknaitis will create will apply solely to how the city uses its own drone — not to how private drone owners can use theirs. Those regulations are set by the Federal Aviation Administration, Chirico said.
Puknaitis said the fire department plans to document each use of the drone so people can know when and why it was deployed and whether it proved helpful.
City council member Patty Gustin also asked for the city to evaluate the costs and benefits of a drone program.
“I’d hate to see us buying into this and all of the sudden we’re buying more and they’re not that durable,” Gustin said.
Puknaitis said the drone is just like any other tool that helps firefighters do their job of responding to emergencies.
“We will have very restrictive policies and procedures as we do on all of the equipment that we purchase and put into use,” Puknaitis said. “This is not anything more than an additional tool to be used under very specific applications. It is not a toy.”