Tysons, VA

Fairfax County is getting closer to developing a program for the police, fire and emergency response agencies to use unmanned aircraft.

The county’s Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider tomorrow (Tuesday) approving the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, which proposes to incorporate drones into government operations with a particular focus on public safety.

“A UAS program would provide enhanced operational capability, safety, and situational awareness for first responders, other staff or volunteers, affiliated partners, and the community,” according to the draft agenda for the county board meeting.

The draft notes that unmanned aircraft are able to operate in possibly hazardous environments that could harm first responders.

Some examples of drone usage include:

  • search and rescue
  • damage assessment
  • fire incident/scene management and investigations
  • hazardous materials responses
  • geospatial data acquisition

Drones would not be used to conduct unauthorized surveillance activities or to harass individuals, the draft says.

The proposal was first brought up last year and the Board of Supervisors directed staff to conduct community outreach on the proposal. After several task force meetings on the proposal and half of a dozen public meetings, the proposal is now seeking the Board of Supervisors’ approval.

If the program is approved, staff would apply for an FAA Certificate of Authority (COA) to comply with federal requirements and also create a steering committee for oversight of the program.

Fairfax County falls under the “No Drone Zone” that placed restrictions on flying unmanned aircraft after 9/11 and requires FAA authorization within a 15-mile radius from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The fire and police departments and Office of Emergency Management would initially receive about six to eight unmanned aircraft — costing the agencies about $3,500 per drone, according to the draft.

Photo via Flickr/Joe Loong

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