Privacy and public notification were at the forefront of conversations at a public open house on Tuesday to discuss county regulations on using unmanned aerial systems.
La Plata County dedicated $40,000 to the recent purchase of three drones and to develop a program to govern their use, which will focus on emergency operations and land surveying.
The dozen attendees at Tuesday’s meeting mostly had questions about the public communication process before the county conducts a mission.
“It’s going to be project-specific,” Emergency Management Coordinator Tom McNamara said. “If we’re just surveying roads, we might work in a pre-permission component. In emergency functions, we may not be able to tell people immediately. But any mission – it will be made public that we did it. We’re not going to be flying in people’s backyards without them knowing.”
Each project will have a public education component, on the front-end of the mission if possible, during which the county will relay the mission’s goal and parameters to the public.
Just like a ground search, if emergency responders needed to use a drone to search private property for a missing person, they would contact the property owner, McNamara said.
Property owners can deny access.
Tuesday’s meeting mostly drew residents curious to know what future restrictions might be, and to see the new devices.
“My business partner and I are trying to start an aerial photography business centered on real estate,” Jack Fults said. “We were curious how we might apply the county’s future policy to our business.”
Over the next two weeks, the county will take public comments on drone standards and procedures prior to the board of county commissioners’ Jan. 24 meeting.