First responders train to use drones

PARMA, Ohio - First responders will learn how to use drone technology in an inaugural Drone Academy being held at Cuyahoga Community College’s Western Campus starting Monday.

The week-long course will provide hands-on experience for a dozen police officers from local departments and will include simulations and practice drills.

“You've got this big, big burst of energy of people wanting to get into and understand drones,” said Chief Clayton Harris, vice president of Public Safety for Tri-C. “We want to make sure we're doing the right thing with thee drones and doing it in a way that is protecting our community.”

The $500 course is the result of increased demand by law enforcement and fire fighters who are using drones to get a bird’s-eye view of hard to reach places.

“Police departments have been looking to use these tools to help improve their jobs,” said Drew Ferguson, a flight instructor who will be teaching the course. “It's just another tool, it's an elevated camera, so folks are finding new applications all the time.”

A camera mounted on the drone beams a live feed to a monitor attached to the drone’s controls, which can be operated from a safe distance away - critical in active shooter or hostage situations. The camera can even be equipped to sense heat from fires.

“Capabilities are endless really, from lost children in the woods to elderly people walking away, crashes, we can take overhead pictures, barricaded situations,” said Orange Police Lt. Patrick O’Callahan, who was trained to use three drones purchased by his department through grants.

O’Callahan said his department has used the drones to assist other area departments and consulted the Village law department about proper use and respecting privacy.

Privacy concerns will also be addressed during the Drone Academy.

“It doesn't change because you're flying a drone in the air, your privacy laws are still intact, which is why it's important for law enforcement and fire fighters to understand this, and why we're doing this class,” Harris said.

Harris said, for now, the course is only open to first responders, but will be opened to the public in the coming months and may be expanded into a larger drone program.