Macon-Bibb commissioners consider drones for emergency response help
“It can improve efficiency with the manpower that you’ve already got. You can get more done and work more safely and with capabilities that they don’t already have,” Ted Lindsley, the CEO of Olaeris, says about his drones.
Macon-Bibb leaders are sold on the technology.
“What we’re looking for is what the technology is going to be able to do to enhance our preparedness for our citizens and safety for our community,” Macon-Bibb EMA Director Don Druitt says.
Commissioners voted in their committee meetings to approve the initial agreement for an aerial electric visual assistant or “AEVA’s” parent’s company, Olaeris, to begin taking steps to implement 15 to 17 drones in Macon-Bibb.
“This is not a little hand held toy drone where two people can build it on a work bench. You have to make molds before you go into production. It actually takes a couple of million dollars before you go into production,” Lindsley says.
Developers say one of the aircraft is about the size of a king-sized bed and weighs 50 pounds.
The county and the company agreed there will be no money spent until leaders are satisfied with what “AEVA” can do — if they are, the county will $96,000 from it’s general fund every month for five years.
“The $5.7 million… covers everything. That’s aviation insurance, maintenance, repairs, certification of pilots, training and on going support of the system,” Lindsley says.
Olaeris has plans to create a regional facility in the county. Leaders say they hope it’ll be a boost not only to public safety efficiency, but for economic development.
“They have the talent from universities that we can recruit from. They’ve got a perfect location to service the southeastern part of the gulf state region, and they’ve got elected officials who are just perfect for what we want to do,” Lindsley says.
What about privacy? Some leaders are concerned about the drones overstepping their boundaries.
“The technology will also be reviewed. The video tapes will be in storage. If there were any breaches in that type of privacy, it can be reviewed,” Druitt says.
“To my knowledge we’re the only drone company in the world that’s aligned with a major civil rights organization. The ACLU will participate in this with us, as will an independent oversight committee of concerned citizens,” Lindsley says.
Stacy Sullivan, the Associate Director for Strategic Communications at ACLU National Headquarters, told 41NBC “ACLU National Headquarters is not aligned with any manufacturer or company that makes drones. In the past the Executive Director of the ACLU in North Carolina co-authored a op-ed (opinion piece) with Olaeris. In the op-ed they argued about privacy rights.”
Safety officials are convinced “AEVA” will be an asset, and they say they’re anxious to see how it can help.
“This is going to help us do that assessment well in advance of teams getting down there,” Druitt says.
Olaeris leaders say if there were ever a concern from the public, “AEVA” video would be accessible on Macon-Bibb’s website for review. If commissioners vote to move forward with the program at next Tuesday’s meeting, it’ll take about two years before the commission review to see if the program will be implemented in the county.