Bergen County shows off drone program, aiming to build for local emergency service

Bergen County Drone Program

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[Editor’s Note: The drones will be used for locating missing persons, structure fires, suspect searches and active shooter scenarios.]

Operators said that the drones have been deployed more than a dozen times in emergency and law-enforcement situations since last year, and pilots train at least twice weekly with the equipment. County Executive James Tedesco said he wants to expand the program with trained volunteer pilots at local emergency response units flying the drones when needed.

Booker (D-N.J.) has pushed for loosening regulations that would allow for more use of drones at a local level.

“We invented flight — we were the first in flight,” he said. “We’re trying to create an environment of innovation while also remaining safe.”

The senator applauded Bergen County for being the first in the state to gain approval to use drones for emergency response.

Tedesco told media at the scheduled event that the county had created protocols to ensure that drones would be used in situations involving first responders, such as a missing person, structure fires, active shooter scenarios or suspect searches and not for surveillance that would violate privacy protections for residents.

All requests for drones are routed through the county’s Office of Emergency Management, Tedesco said.

The drones have flight logs that record where they were deployed as another backstop for any potential misuse of the devices, said Officer Kyle Ferreria, with the Wyckoff Police Department.

Ferreria is one of three drone pilots with the county. He also is a certified fixed-wing aircraft pilot through the Federal Aviation Administration. Current FAA regulations require that an FAA-certified pilot supervise drone flights.

Lt. Matthew Tiedemann of the county Sheriff’s Department, described a handful of incidents in which the county deployed drones:

  • A 2015 Search for a homicide suspect in Midland Park.
  • A 2015 PSE&G Electrical Substation fire in Waldwick.
  • Aerial photographs of a section of Saddle River in Rochelle Park in October 2015 to evaluate erosion as part of a grant request that would help mitigate damage to the river.
  • Active shooter training exercise at Westfield Garden State Plaza.
  • Locating a berm breach in March 2016 in Little Ferry that had caused flooding in the borough.
  • Aerial photos of a church building fire in Englewood on March 23 that helped determine the source and cause of the fire for arson investigators.

The drone pilots also have come up with more novel uses for the devices: Tiedemann purchased a portable radiological sensor, which he then attached to a drone and was able to use to detect radiological substances from more than 100 yards away at a height of 20 feet.

The pilots also assisted Saddle River in a study of the area’s deer population, using infrared camera to spot deer in denser forest area, a technology similar to that used to searching for missing persons, Tiedemann said.



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