FORSYTH, Ga. — In the small town of Byromville, something like a derailment involving 30 train cars carrying propane tanks, requires all hands on deck.
“You never know what you’ve got. You can see what’s around you, but you never know until you get a bird's-eye view,” says Dooly County Fire Chief Brett Walls.
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Instead of sending his guys into the rubble, Brett Walls took out his personal drone to assess the wreckage.
“CSX was asking what type of cars there were, and we didn’t want to send anybody out there without knowing what we had. When you see a pressurized container car, it gets a little scary,” says Walls.
With the help of this technology, Walls protected his team from a potentially-dangerous situation but still got the job done.
Law enforcement from across the state comes to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to learn how to operate drones.
The center’s spokesman, John Hutcheson, says the opportunities are endless, especially for traffic accident investigations and reconstruction.
“They don’t have to get out and physically go into traffic and block the road. They can do the type of work you saw with the vehicles still moving on the road,” says Hutcheson.
Drone footage also can create 360-degree photos from accident scenes. This gives officers a clear look at the damage from a laptop. Their gadget is also equipped with heat sensor technology to help police find a missing person or suspects on the run.
Hutcheson says, "A wooded area or something like that, we send up a drone and cover more area than you can by foot and putting boots on the ground.”
Drones are becoming an essential tool for law enforcement. However, should we be concerned that these eyes in the sky have the potential to invade our privacy?
Hutcheson says officers still need probable cause and a search warrant to use drones for investigations on private property.
“Law enforcement’s not just flying drones around to see what they can see, just to build a case on someone. We still have to put in the man hours, the investigative tools, to build that case.”
According to Hutcheson, drones can’t be used to pry into people’s lives. Instead, they act as an aid to law enforcement.
“I think safety is the biggest issue, and then manpower -- that one drone can take the place of probably 20 searchers.”
The more often drones are used, the more investigators discover new ways to use the soaring technology.
“There’s just many applications. We’re finding different ones to be beneficial.”
Whether it’s eyeing an accident or finding a missing person, drones are saving time, money, and lives.