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Sheriff to Explore Ways to Use Drones in Search & Rescue Operations


June 1, 2016

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif – The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, as part of a public/private partnership with Sentera LLC of Minnesota, will begin training operations associated with the new Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Program on Wednesday June 1, from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for all search and rescues within the unincorporated areas of Riverside County. In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department responded to over 170 search and rescue related incidents. YTD totals for 2015 indicate that the number of search and rescue operations have continued to increase which equates to more lives at risk, as well as financial cost to taxpayers for extended search operations.

In ongoing efforts to explore means of improving operations and reducing costs, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has been researching the concept of utilizing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for search and rescue operations. UAVs have proven helpful when they were used successfully in lifesaving efforts during California fires and Colorado flooding incidents. UAV’s performed damage assessments and assisted with real time deployment decisions of rescue personnel and equipment.

Government agencies are required to apply for and receive a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prior to operating UAV’s in pre-approved areas. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department applied for a Certificate in August 2015 and it was approved on December X, 2015.

The Department has entered into a public / private proof of concept test agreement with Sentera LLC (Minnesota) to use their Phoenix aircraft style Unmanned Aerial System during a one-year, no cost, evaluation period. Sentera personnel have extensive experience in the development and application of Unmanned Systems, focusing in the areas of agriculture and first responders. Sentera systems are robust, practical, and exceed all FAA and Department regulations and requirements to be authorized for operation.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department testing will focus solely on search and rescue operations where a fixed wing UAV could be deployed to support and supplement current resources. Even though an UAV cannot not replace current aviation resources, the potential exists that such systems could potentially perform about 30% of the operational aspects of search and rescue at about 2% of the financial costs. UAV’s may potentially result in quicker rescues due to their ability to help search managers focus Search and Rescue teams in high probability areas based on real- time photographic assessments done remotely.

The Department is looking forward to this one-year public-private partnership with Sentera and greatly appreciated their involvement and expertise to date. It is hoped the use of the Sentera Phoenix will result in significant cost savings for taxpayers, while helping to save lives during search and rescue operations.



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