Council, SAPD, Express Worries About Civilian Drone Use

Several City officials expressed concern about nearly unfettered civilian drone use around San Antonio, as the Police and Fire Departments explained how drones are being intigrated into their operations, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Fire Chief Charles Hood told a City Council committee that his firefighters are gonig to begin using drones to enter damaged buildings which are still too dangerous for people, to check on fire victims or other damage.

Police Chief William McManus plans to add 'drone officers' as well.

"The program that SAPD will consider will only be used in tactical situations, such as a SWAT situation, crime scene, and traffic crashes," McManus said. "We would not use it to conduct surveillance."

But several members of the committee expressed serious concerns about the current lack of local regulations concerning the use of drones.  McManus said he shares some of their concerns.

"Like at the MLK March, for example, there were several drones that we spotted over the crowd," he said.  "The concern, of course, is what happens if it comes down onto the crowd."

But City Councilman and retired USAF Colonel Mike Gallagher had a greater concern.

Unlike most other major cities, the San Antonio airport is right in the middle of the city.  It was in the largely unpopulated 'far north side' when the Airport was located there in the 1950s, but the city has grown around the airport, and Gallagher is worried that unrestricted drone activity in neighborhoods around the airport could lead to drones getting into the way of flight paths.

"I'm afraid this may be a tragedy waiting to happen,' Gallagher said.

McManus said there is another worry that he has if drones are used, for example, by criminals to check out the position of police officers.

"When you see a drone flying, and you don't know where the pilot it," he said.

The City plans to continue to evolve drone usage rules over the coming months.  McManus said right now, the only rules include a requiement that privately held drones be registered with the FAA, and they can't be used, for example, to fly over 'critical infrastructure' like utility lines and power plants.


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