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Henry Co. drone could potentially save lives

HENRY COUNTY (WISH – While the national debate on drones continues, one central Indiana county has begun testing on an unmanned aerial vehicle after receiving approval from the FAA to use it.

Henry County is looking to use its Phantom 2 Quadcopter to potentially save lives.

“Manpower is limited,” Ron Huffman, Henry County’s emergency management services director, said. “And if you’ve got limited resources and say you have to pack up two people in HazMat gear, walk them all the way down to the scene to look and see what you need and then come all the way back, you’re through an airpack and wasting time.”

“We can cover a field with this in a real short period of time versus putting people into that field,” Tom Green, one of the UAV pilots, added.

Henry County bought the UAV last June, but due to the FAA’s still-developing standards on drones and the resulting red tape, Saturday was the first time Henry County’s pilots could test out the drone. Nevertheless, Huffman says he’s heard from EMS agencies across the country wanting to follow Henry County’s lead.

“We kind of took that step knowing that this was a tool that could benefit the public, and we went ahead and got out there, got the paperwork done,” Huffman said.

But not just anyone can fly the Phantom. The pilots have to receive specialized training to get behind the controls when disaster strikes.

“I hope we don’t have to use it, but when we do, I think we can respond a lot quicker, cover a lot more area and do things that we couldn’t do before when we had a lack of manpower,” Green said.

Under the approved protocols from the FAA, Henry County’s drone cannot be used for law enforcement activities unless a judge issues a court order allowing officers access to the equipment.