Loudon County EMA receives drone, says might not be able to use it


By: Kelsey Leyrer

LOUDON COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) — At the Loudon County Emergency Management Agency, Daryl Smith is always looking for new ways to keep his community safe.

Lately, that search has him looking up. Last year, the EMA received a $1,900 drone with grant money from the Department of Energy.

“It has the ability to send real-time images back to the user for governmental search and rescue, hazmat scenes, or fire scenes,” says Smith, the emergency director. “Things of that nature would be very helpful.”

Some agencies across the country are already using them. There’s just one problem. The EMA’s drone can’t leave the ground.

Between the time Loudon County EMA ordered the drone and when they got it, Smith says the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules on drones became stricter.

“In doing so, it put us in a position where there’s no way we can use it,” says Smith.

To fly the drone, Smith says his employees would have to attend pilot ground school. It’s costs a few hundred dollars and it’s luxury his department can’t afford.

“They would be more than willing to donate their time and receive the training, but the funding is the aspect,” he says.

Smith says the FAA would also require him to set up a detailed flight plan every time they used the drone. But, for most emergencies, Smith says that’s not doable.

Even though he’s read the manual cover to cover, for the time being, Smith’s high hopes have been grounded.

“We’re disappointed. I had a lot of hope in this and I thought every emergency agency we have out here from fire, to law enforcement and EMS could benefit from overseeing a scene or searching an area,” he says.

Smith says he hopes to transfer the drone over to a non-government agency in the area, such as a volunteer fire department. He hopes that way it can be used for the purpose he imagined.