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Report: Drones have wide government uses in North Carolina

The Associated Press

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State and local governments in North Carolina could use unmanned aircraft for law enforcement, hurricane recovery and monitoring wildlife, a new state report suggests.

While the report issued by State Chief Information Officer Chris Estes concludes that governments in the state should pursue the use of drone technology — safety, privacy and data security issues must be addressed.

State lawmakers had directed Estes and the Department of Transportation to evaluate whether there is a need for the use of drone technology and, if so, to begin planning for it.

“There are many potential benefits for government use,” the report concluded. “For agencies or local government entities that are currently operating manned fights, unmanned aircraft systems are generally less expensive and less risky than their manned counterparts.”

The report concluded drones can be used for any number of applications. They include emergency uses for everything from hurricane recovery and search and rescue over inaccessible terrain to helping with police pursuits and hostage situations.

Airborne cameras on drones can also help detect drought or insect infestations on farms in the state, conduct wildlife surveys and be used for real-time traffic monitoring. Drones can also be used for surveying and capturing overhead pictures of cultural resources that was previously unavailable, the report said.

“Aerial video coverage of major state events and streaming video and photography of state and national parks could enhance marketing, outreach and information sharing,” it added.

The report agreed with the Federal Aviation Administration that drones should be safely integrated into airspace without affecting the safety of aircraft now flying. It also said that manned flights by the state and local governments should get priority over drones.

Material gathered from drone flights by governments will likely come be considered public records under state law, the report said “however there are many exceptions and novel legal issues are expected.”

The report also said that other existing laws apply to issues of safety and privacy raised by unmanned flight. They include laws against dangerous flying, secret peeping and intercepting communications.

The report also discussed the pros and cons of how state agencies could get access to unmanned aircraft.

Leasing would mean that agencies would have access to the latest technology while the vendor would have to pay the costs of maintaining the aircraft. But such leases can be expensive and the vendors might have proprietary information systems that would restrict their use by public agencies, the report said.

Buying smaller drones of less than 55 pounds might be cost-effective, because operational and maintenance costs can be low. But the report also said that maintaining the equipment would take up staff time and new employees might need to be hired to operate the drones.