The value of Maine State Police drones came into sharp focus in the aftermath of a silo explosion that injured three people last month.
State police operators used one of the newly acquired unmanned aerial vehicles to check for victims after an explosion and sulfur leak made it unsafe for emergency personnel to go inside the 86-foot structure, State Police Sgt. Darren Foster told reporters Tuesday.
“This is something we never would’ve anticipated when we started the program. But because of the technology, it was a no brainer for us,” he said.
State police purchased three drones for $6,000 apiece this fall, two years after lawmakers crafted rules and regulations governing their use.
Their greatest use so far has been at crash and crime scenes as opposed to search and rescue operations like the one in October in Detroit, Maine.
Drones are used regularly to analyze and document crash scenes, reducing the amount of time roads are closed and the amount of work for investigators.
In a matter of minutes, drones can take 100 to 200 photos from which precise measurements can be gleaned by crash investigators who previously spent an hour or more taking several hundred measurements with surveying equipment, said State Police Maj. Chris Grotton.
Traffic doesn’t have to be stopped for the drones to take photos, meaning traffic delays are minimized, Grotton said. Besides benefiting motorists, state police are finding that 15 to 20 hours of work is being saved for each crash scene analysis, he said.
State police officials who demonstrated how the drones work on Tuesday brushed aside concerns about privacy and surveillance of crowds.
Groton said the rules governing the presence of drones are the same for officers. If they need a warrant, then they’ll obtain one, Grotton said. If they don’t, for example at a crash site on a public road, then drones can be used, he said.
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