County officials talk drone applications in state

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Low Angle View Of Drone At Dusk

Presenters talked to county officials about what benefits drones could bring to their entities during the North Dakota Association of Counties conference.

The talk, “Taking Flight: Drone Applications for Public Safety and Beyond,” covered drone use by law enforcement, in surveying and in storm cleanup during the first day of the conference held in Bismarck on Monday.

Most notably, Cass County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Matt King, who is a member of the Grand Forks-based Northeast Region UAS Unit, covered the use of drones by law enforcement during protests against the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline in south central North Dakota.

King said he was on site for seven weeks, starting Sept. 7, 2016. He started by conducting overwatch of the camps established by protesters on U.S. Army Corps of Engineer land in Morton County. The drone also flew Oct. 27, when authorities pushed back protesters who had set up a camp in the pipeline’s construction path.

The UAS unit, of which King is a part, has flown nearly 170 missions since it was started in 2012.

Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost, present in the audience, said the unit’s drone has mostly proven useful in taking crime scene and fatal accident photos. The images can be adapted into 3-D mosaics that are particularly helpful in court, he said.

King said there have also been times the drone has been used to search hard-to-reach portions of the Red River, in situations where someone may have fallen in the water.

The drone offers images from a different perspective and saves on the cost of sending up manned aircraft, such as a helicopter.

Mark Nisbet, North Dakota principal manager for Xcel Energy, told the audience his company has used drones to survey storm damage in an effort to get power restored. He told attendees it could be useful in inspecting lines more often for preventative measures.

Rob Pepsin, UAS account manager for RDO Equipment, said, in the construction industry, drones can be more cost effective in surveying large areas, such as major road construction planning.

County officials on hand for the presentation, including Bowman County Commissioner Rick Braaten, said they mostly came to gather more information on drones and their uses.

Mercer County Commissioner Wayne Entze said the information he gathered could be useful in his position as a Mercer Regional Airport board member.

Trevor Woods, director of safety for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, told the audience that the test site is planning a long distance drone flight between Grand Forks and Fargo, with a pit stop in Hillsboro, in late 2018 or early 2019 in an effort to test drone flight beyond line of site.

Woods said they would eventually like to expand these tests to the west as well, and Entze said that could present an opportunity in Mercer County. Entze felt Monday’s informational session would help him should the time come.


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