HAW RIVER, NC -- Drones are one of the hottest toys of the Christmas season but they're also a tool first responders use to save lives.
Firefighters, police officers, and emergency management officials in Alamance County spent the week learning about drones and how to fly them in emergency situations.
Slowly but surely, Gibsonville Police Officer Josh Taylor is getting the hang of flying a drone.
“I can go left, right, up, down,” said Taylor.
But he has made some mistakes along the way.
"It's definitely a learning curve," said Taylor.
Taylor is part of a group of first responders from across the region learning how they can use the technology in their jobs to keep people safer.
"This machine could in fact save lives and keep us safe out in the field as well,” said Taylor. “It takes some of the risk factor out of it."
Haw River Police, Elon University Police, Elon Fire, and Chatham County Emergency Management each had a representative in the class.
The class spent Thursday and Friday practicing how to maneuver the drones at the Burlington Police Training Center in Haw River.
But before they could take flight, they had to learn the ground rules.
Participants spent a week in the classroom with commercial drone pilots Ralph Newcomb and Mike Sheron with the Public Safety UAS Institute.
Students not only learned the basics of flying a drone, but they also learned the rules and regulations necessary to earn their FAA licenses.
“There's a lot of responsibility with flying these,” said Newcomb. “They need to know where it is and what direction is flying in at all times.”
Outside, the class learned how drones can help them in all different types of emergencies -- like hostage situations or missing persons cases.
In Friday’s training scenario, instructors placed a suspicious looking package next to a building to simulate a bomb threat.
The students took turns maneuvering the drone close enough to get a good look.
“This is just another tool in their toolbox to be able to save time, save money, and save lives,” said Newcomb.
Drones have proven to be an effective tool for law enforcement in the past.
In November, investigators used a drone to track down a missing woman in a cornfield in Randolph County.
None of the agencies who participated in the class actually have their own drones yet.
But participants say they’re exciting about the possibility of being able to use one in the future to improve public safety.
“I'm always looking to grow as an officer and we're also looking for ways to grow as a department,” said Taylor. “Keeping track and keeping up-to-date with technology and the advancements of machinery and incorporating it into our police field is really going to revolutionize the Public Safety industry.”
Alamance County Community College teamed up with Public Safety UAS Institute to teach the class.
Instructors are offering two classes in January for anyone interested in learning how to fly a drone safely.
For more details, click here.
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