Learn how Fairfax Co. wants to use drones

WASHINGTON — Virginia’s Fairfax County wants to know what you think about it launching a drone program. The Public Safety Unmanned Aircraft Systems program would be used for traffic management, search and rescue missions, post-disaster assessments and more.

The task force that put the proposal together has reviewed programs nationwide to gain perspective on best practices, potential hurdles and public concerns, which typically involve privacy.

Roy Shrout, the deputy coordinator for the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management and the program manager of the unmanned aircraft systems program, said, “We are not going to be doing random surveillance.”

He cited the relevant law and said, “You cannot use it for law enforcement surveillance purposes unless you have a search warrant. … The program is set up for public safety, so it’ll be for emergency management, police and fire/rescue and for investigations.”

Drones could be used, for example, to expedite the reconstruction of traffic crashes to get the involved cars off the road more quickly, to find hazardous leaks in pipelines, inspect bridges or assess damages after floods, tornadoes or big snowstorms.

“What it’ll be able to do is give us a bird’s eye view, if you will, right after the weather has passed through about where we have the issues … road issues and things like that,” Shrout said.

There are drone programs in 25 Virginia jurisdictions, including Stafford and Loudoun counties.

Last October, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office used its drone team to help locate and rescue a man who was lost in the woods.

Drones could be used by Fairfax County wildlife biologists to maintain situational awareness of surrounding properties and residents during deer management sharpshooter events.

“Having this type of platform is going to make their job much simpler and safer,” Shrout said.

Preparing what Shrout believes will be one of the more comprehensive programs in the country also included input from the Audubon Society for consideration during flight operations — “to ensure that we’re not impacting any wildlife and nesting sites and things like that,” Shrout said.

You can learn more about the program and comment or ask questions online.

Six information sessions will be held countywide throughout January:

Jan. 14

Mason District Governmental Center (Community Room)
6507 Columbia Pike, Annandale

Jan. 16

South County Governmental Center (Room 221C)
8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria

Jan. 23

McLean District Governmental Center
1437 Balls Hill Road, McLean

Jan. 24

Sully District Governmental Center
4900 Stonecroft Blvd., Chantilly

Jan. 28

Reston Community Center — Hunter Woods
2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston

Jan. 30

Braddock Hall — Kings Park Library
9002 Burke Lake Road, Burke

Each meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. with on-table displays of the unmanned aircraft. A presentation outlining the program begins at 7 p.m.; then, you can ask questions from representatives of the Office of Emergency Management, the County Attorney’s Office, and the police and fire departments.

If all goes as planned, Shrout anticipates the UAS program will be operational by May.

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