4-H drone dis­cov­ery brings out in­ter­ests

The Covington News - - AGRICULTURE - Terri Fuller­ton is a County Ex­ten­sion Agent in 4-H Youth with Univer­sity of Georgia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion.

Could tech­nol­ogy change the way law en­force­ment uses force?

Most of what I know about drones came from an episode of The Big Bang The­ory. On the show, the friends turn in cir­cles to cal­i­brate a drone be­fore it even­tu­ally gets a mind of its own and flies all over the apart­ment knock­ing things over.

If you’re like me, you haven’t thought about drones as much more than toys.

Fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Matthew, I ea­gerly watched footage shot from drones over Ty­bee and Jekyll is­lands to see if I could spot our 4-H cen­ters. Pre­par­ing for 4-H Na­tional Youth Science Day, I read about farm­ers scout­ing crops, line­men us­ing drones to in­spect elec­tric lines, film­mak­ers get­ting cool an­gles and park rangers sur­vey­ing for­est fires.

That’s all very in­ter­est­ing, but I wasn’t ex­cited.

That was be­fore Cor­po­ral Tony Howard of the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment came to visit our 4-H Drone Dis­cov­ery Day last week. I thought I knew what to ex­pect: he’d fly the drones around, and we’d hear how he used them to as­sist with in­ves­ti­ga­tions and stand­offs.

Howard said he was so con­fi­dent of the im­pact of drones on law en­force­ment that he per­son­ally pur­chased the first two used to as­sist the sher­iff’s depart­ment. He told the 4-H’ers about us­ing them to sur­vey prop­erty be­fore a SWAT raid, keep­ing of­fi­cers out of the line of fire.

But Howard didn’t just buy a drone. He con­tin­u­ally prac­tices and looks for ways to im­prove them. He mod­i­fied one to fly in­doors. While vis­it­ing the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s (FAA) of­fices re­cently, he even had the chance to demon­strate their func­tion­al­ity for a re­gional su­per­vi­sor.

But these aren’t things that hap­pen ev­ery day in New­ton County, right?

No, said Howard, but things like miss­ing per­sons in­ves­ti­ga­tions hap­pen much more fre­quently. Chil­dren get lost. Adults with med­i­cal con­di­tions like de­men­tia wan­der away. Just in the last few weeks a young woman di s appe ared while fish­ing at Fac­tory Shoals.

In fact, New­ton County SWAT as­sists neigh­bor­ing coun­ties, so if we ever had an emer­gency at Rock Ea­gle 4-H Cen­ter in Ea­ton­ton, Howard might be the one com­ing to our res­cue.

In many of these cases, the cam­era and heat sen­sors on one of the NCSD drones can help lo­cate the miss­ing per­son in a frac­tion of the time needed for a search with peo­ple. In the Fac­tory Shoals case, un­for­tu­nately, the woman’s body was pinned un­der a boul­der which also emit­ted heat, but oth­er­wise, the drone can de­tect a sub­merged body.

This alone had me pretty ex­cited. The hours saved in the search not only help the bud­get on count­less man­power hours but most im­por­tantly save time when ev­ery minute and ev­ery sec­ond may count for a per­son’s health.

But this was still only the start.

Howard told us about other uses of drones in law en­force­ment, and the var­i­ous func­tions that can be added to a drone. In ad­di­tion to just look­ing around, drones can be used to carry ob­jects, open things, or any num­ber of tasks.

What if a drone could mon­i­tor a crowd from above, help­ing iden­tify prob­lems be­fore they spread? What if a pa­trol­man had a drone in his or her car? You go on what seems like a rou­tine call, but as Howard de­scribed it, “the hair stands up on the back of your neck.”

Nor­mally, the of­fi­cer might call for backup, but in the end, some­one will have to exit the car to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion and may have to make a split-sec­ond de­ci­sion as to how to re­spond. But if the pa­trol­man had a drone that could be de­ployed from the win­dow of her car, she could re­main in the safety of the ve­hi­cle as she gath­ers in­for­ma­tion and as­sesses the risk. She might in­ter­act with other peo­ple through the drone.

In­stead of a split sec­ond de­ci­sion, what if the drone added time and in­for­ma­tion for that of­fi­cer to de­cide how to re­spond, while also keep­ing her safe?

Ev­ery­one told me Howard was ex­cited about drones. I’m thank­ful he was will­ing to share that ex­cite­ment with New­ton 4-H’ers. I could al­ready see the wheels turn­ing in their heads, as some of them imag­ined how they’ll make a dif­fer­ence like Howard one day.

sub­mit­ted pho­tos | The Cov­ing­ton News

Cor­po­ral Tony Howard shows 4-Hers the work­ings of a drone.

The drone flies over­heard dur­ing 4-H Drone Dis­cov­ery Day last week.

TERRI FULLER­TON COLUM­NIST

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