Politics & Government

Drones could be used in Macon-Bibb for emergency response

Macon-Bibb County could become an aviation pioneer as a regional hub for drones responding to emergencies and natural disasters.

A resolution will go before the city-county commission’s Economic and Community Development Committee on Tuesday about the proposed $5.7 million project with manufacturer Olaeris that could include a dozen drones placed across the county.

If approved, Macon-Bibb would have the first countywide unmanned aircraft system in the world, Olaeris CEO Ted Lindsley said Monday.

The company plans to unveil two cities this summer that could join Macon-Bibb as regional hubs. Macon-Bibb could assist with natural disasters or other major emergencies across seven states in the Southeast.

“We wanted to launch in a key strategic location where we can build a presence,” Lindsley said. “What’s exciting is (Macon-Bibb’s) leadership is awesome, forward thinking.”

If commissioners approve the drone deal, it would take a number of months before the flying machines would be used in Macon. A docking station would be built, public safety employees would receive training and new software at the 911 center would be installed.

The drones would be available to the county’s Emergency Management Agency, sheriff’s office and fire department. They could be deployed for everything from assessing a natural disaster to a hostage standoff.

“It’s highly technical, and having the ability to be the first with Silicon Valley-type technology is unique,” said Don Druitt, director of the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency.

Olaeris is working on the project with $2 billion aviation company Haeco to develop guidelines to present to the Federal Aviation Administration. They also will work with local organizations to address any privacy concerns from residents.

People will be able to track online the aircraft whenever they’re used to learn where and why they were deployed.

“It gives a level of transparency so we as a public know what’s going on,” Lindsley said.

The five-year contract would cost $96,000 a month and provide a warranty as well as maintenance and repairs. Macon-Bibb would not pay until the fleet is fully operational.

“Right now, the funding would come from the general fund, but we would be seeking other sources in the meantime,” Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said in an email.

The drones would be able to get to most places in the county within 90 seconds to several minutes.

“Eventually we expect them to be standard issued equipment like buying police cars or fire trucks,” Lindsley said.

Olaeris estimates that for every $1 spent on their drones, a government will save $6 to $8 of manpower.

For example, a drone can save money when responding to a fire call.

“Ninety-five percent of all fire alarms are false, but fire departments have no choice to go, and you may have 15 (firefighters) responding,” Lindsley said. “In most cases the drone can see if there is a heat signature or flames. Maybe you send one vehicle to monitor it and can send the other (firefighters) to a major wreck on a highway.”

The proposed projects ties into other public safety projects in Macon.

“We are already moving towards regional emergency communication with our new, SPLOST-funded 800 MHz radio system that allows other counties to connect their radios to our system,” Floore said.

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.