Jared Johnson talks about EMA's drone

O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Jared Johnson points out a feature on his agency’s drone while speaking about the aerial vehicle Tuesday during the board of supervisors meeting. The drone has thermal-imaging capabilities, which would make it useful for search-and-rescue operations.

PRIMGHAR—The O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency’s search and rescue capabilities will be taken to new heights thanks to a drone it recently purchased.

Jared Johnson, the agency’s coordinator, showed the aerial vehicle to the county board of supervisors during its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1, and spoke about how it could be used to assist with various emergency scenarios.

“This drone has a dual camera, so it does have thermal imaging capabilities,” he said. “The plan is to use it for search and rescue. We can also use it for debris or damage assessments and other types of operations. The nice thing about the drone: It is smaller, so it is very compact.”

The drone is also equipped with a light that allows it to be used at night. Attachments for another flashlight and a speaker are also included in the kit it came with.

“Then we do have a small, side monitor that you can actually plug into the remote and you can also plug into a TV so you can see the images from the drone while you’re flying,” Johnson said.

He said he had been looking into getting a drone for a couple years, and since the emergency management agency had enough money to purchase the drone this fiscal year, he decided to go forward with the purchase.

Johnson is the only person with the emergency management agency with a remote pilot license, however, he said it would be good for more people in the agency to eventually become qualified so they could also operate the drone.

Board member Nancy McDowell asked what the drone’s range would be if it needed to be used for a search-and-rescue mission.

“The pilot’s supposed to be able to see the drone when you’re flying and you’re supposed to have three statute miles of sight visibility when flying,” Johnson said.

It also has preflight mapping capabilities so it would be able to fly automatically. There is also a button on the controls the operator can hit to have the drone return to the spot from which it launched.

Johnson said the drone has anticollision sensors that help prevent it from crashing into objects while flying.

Board member Dan Friedrichsen said the drone would have been ideal for a situation he recalled in which an elderly man fell in a cornfield and a search team went to find him.

“What a difference maker that would have made. We’re talking hours difference maker,” Friedrichsen said.

The drone is registered, however, Johnson is waiting on its insurance to be finalized before putting it to use. At some point he would like to do a test flight outside so the supervisors can see the drone in action.

Johnson also updated the board on recent coronavirus testing in O’Brien County and supplies of personal protective equipment at the courthouse and nursing homes and hospitals in the county.

He said some county departments have talked about the potential to expand the courthouse’s hours of operation and the departments would meet to discuss how the building’s phase two was going.

Johnson also told the supervisors where he was at in preparing a coronavirus-related expense report to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the process for determining eligibility for the Local Government Relief Fund through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

“We’re working on a spreadsheet this week, just double-checking expenses that occurred from March 1-July 31,” Johnson said.

“I’m waiting on a few documents from a few other departments that would like to submit some expenses as well. One is public health time for the screening they’ve done.”

He also gave an update on the potential for the county to set up a floodplain management program. He spoke with the county’s environmental health specialist, Jonathon Hintz, about the proposed ordinance and resolutions that would be required and potential duties for the person who would oversee the program.

“The thing that’s unknown is how much time will it actually take to fulfill, going through the permits or following up on questions, working with the DNR (Department of Natural Resources),” Johnson said.