In Fairfax County, public safety drones are cleared for takeoff

Drones have been approved for takeoff in Virginia’s Fairfax County, but there will be some restrictions when it comes to who can operate them.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the Public Safety Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program. It allows public safety agencies — specifically Fire and Rescue, Emergency Management, the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office — to use them in assessing such situations as flood damage, hazardous materials responses, search and rescue, and crash reconstruction.

Drone flights are expected to begin as early as August. Agencies will now begin a 90-day process of purchasing equipment and certifying pilots, who are required to have a remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Public notifications on training flights and missions will be provided through Fairfax Alerts.

One of the main concerns addressed at Tuesday’s board meeting was privacy and ensuring no rights are violated. Supervisor John Cook urged officials to clarify changes to the policy ensuring that video recording would be turned off while drones were in route.

“Unless required by an articulable operational purpose, the recording of that imagery shall not begin until the [drone] has arrived at the location,” said Dave Rohrer, Deputy County Executive for Public Safety.

Supervisor Penny Gross applauded the process of making sure privacy issues were addressed and the time spent gathering feedback from the community throughout the approval process. “As a result, we have a good program before us,” she added.

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

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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