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Early donations fuel Allamakee County Sheriff Department's pursuit of drone purchase to aid in local emergency situations Additional donations welcome

by Joe Moses
The Allamakee County Sheriff Department and the Allamakee County Emergency Management Office have begun an initiative to purchase an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), otherwise known as a drone, for emergency search and rescue use within Allamakee County and surrounding areas. It has been proven to local authorities that the use of a drone can save valuable time during emergency situations and may also provide safety for first responders and victims in certain situations.

Drones from neighboring counties have been an invaluable resource for Allamakee County authorities in recent situations, and Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick says that having such equipment available locally and immediately would be an asset during that critical first hour in emergency situations and search and rescue efforts when time is of the essence in locating the critically inured, a missing child or adult, or in assessing a dangerous situation for the safety of first responders.

The August 20, 2017 search and rescue of six Quad Cities area women who went missing while tubing in a rugged and desolate section of Yellow River between Ion and Effigy Mounds is one of several examples where drone use has proven itself beneficial in Allamakee County. In this situation, three of the missing persons were located within 10 minutes utilizing a drone that was also able to drop a walkie-talkie to the individuals, allowing communication with emergency personnel, who were then informed that three additional people were separated from their group. With the use of the drone's camera, the other three people were quickly located. Harpers Ferry Fire and Rescue personnel drove a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) to their location, rescuing all six of the missing tubers, who were unharmed. This quick rescue effort was accomplished with the help of a drone on loan from the Decorah Fire Department.

Sheriff Mellick has indicated that the drone being sought for such purposes will be made available to all of the county's first responders for search and rescue purposes, fire suppression activity determination, hazardous material spills, natural disaster mitigation and accident reconstruction. Drone training will be provided to several Sheriff Department deputies and two members of each fire department within the county. Mellick has indicated that the drone will only be used for search and rescue and for viewing hazardous situations, not for surveillance purposes in criminal cases.

The Inspire 1 v.2.0 drone with payload dropping system is capable of lifting up to 3-1/2 lbs. and can transport a life preserver or handheld radio to a victim in distress or transport the end of a rope to a victim during a swift-water rescue, as one example of its many perceived uses. The drone is also equipped with a camera capable of live video and photography but also has infrared capabilities, the heat sensitive viewing seen as being very beneficial in searching for a missing person or child, day or night, within wilderness, crops or other visual obstructions. It is believed that this type of drone technology could also be of great value to fire departments and first responders in evaluating heat levels within burning buildings, providing essential information to perhaps allow for safe entry into a hazardous situation.

The Inspire 1 v.2.0 First Responder Aerial Kit with a 23-inch television monitor and hard-case costs approximately $9,500. To kick-start the fundraising process, an anonymous donor has pledged $5,000 toward the purchase of the drone, with recent additional donations of $500 from the Waukon Lions Club and $1,000 from the Rivers and Bluffs Classic Tractor Club also being added to that fund raising mix. A total of $3,000 remains to reach the fundraising goal to purchase the drone and necessary equipment.

The Allamakee County Sheriff's Department and Emergency Management Office are encouraging businesses, organizations and private donors to consider a gift in support of the purchase of the UAV drone and associated equipment. Donations can be made payable to and mailed to the Allamakee County Sheriff's Office, 877 State Hwy 9, Waukon, IA 52172, noting in the memo "Drone Donation". Donors will be recognized in the newspaper and on the Allamakee County Sheriff Department website, unless requesting to remain anonymous.

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