By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
As special deputy Larry Moore walked across the lawn in front of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office, the hovering drone caught his every move. Even as he zig-zagged under a group of trees, the infrared camera showed the glowing image of Moore.
“It could be pitch black outside and we could see him,” Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said.
The new drone purchased by the sheriff’s office is an elite – and expensive – version of the small drones that buzz the skies. This is more of an “industrial drone,” that has an infrared and a regular camera, can withstand high winds, is water resistant, can fly at night, has a range of four miles, is able to fly 40 mph, can fly as high as 400 feet which offers a square mile of coverage, and has a collision avoidance system.
The DJI Matrice M210 drone came with a price tag of $23,000. But a donation of $9,000 from Michael McAlear, a special deputy and friend of the sheriff, helped the department purchase the Cadillac of drones.
“That made the difference, so we could get an upgrade,” Wasylyshyn said.
The sheriff is now considering the possibility of purchasing multiple smaller drones that can be deployed quickly by each shift of the road patrols.
“Eventually, drones will be issued with your shotgun,” he predicted.
The smaller drones come with smaller price tags – about $1,000 each. They could be used in crises where time is critical, such as a river rescue. The smaller drones, that weigh no more than 1.5 pounds, can be deployed in less than a minute. They can also fly inside buildings, which would allow the sheriff’s office to get an eye on a situation without endangering staff. The small drones can spot someone hiding or someone armed inside a building.
By the end of the year, Wasylyshyn hopes to have a couple of the smaller drones on duty.
Any of the drones could be used to help in searches for runaways or people with dementia who have wandered from home. The sheriff’s office new drone has already been used to help find a suspect who fled from the Fostoria Police. The drone was able to spot him in a woods.
“Another success story,” said Sgt. Greg Panning, who is one of four people on the department trained to operate the drone.
The drone also helped corral a herd of 52 cattle that had escaped from a farm.
“There were cattle running down Poe Road and some on Carter Road,” Panning said.
The sheriff’s office envisions the drone being used to take overhead photos of major accident scenes, and to get information at hazardous material spills. “We could put this right on top of it,” Panning said of spills that would be too dangerous for first responders to get close to.
Wasylyshyn is also eyeing ways the big drone can be used by other county offices. For example, the drone has already flown over a new roundabout to give the county engineer’s office a birds-eye view. It could also be used on river cleanup projects to help identify where logjams are located.
The drone could also be used to help with bridge inspections by photographing the underneath of bridges. “You can fly under and look above,” Panning said.
And it’s likely there are several other uses for the drone, Wasylyshyn said. “We’re still in the development stages,” the sheriff said.