AFD Teams with Search and Rescue Pilot to Test Drone Technology

The Austin Fire Department could be the first major municipality that is sanctioned to use drones.

"We're the first. We're the first out of the box right now," said Coitt Kessler with the Austin Fire Department.

To do something no one has done before, they've enlisted the help of a trailblazer. Gene Robinson is famous for using drones all over the country in search-and-rescue missions.

"This is going to be the first asset deployed. It's going to be, 'Hey, send the drone up first so we can get an overall view of the thing.' That's the first thing you’re going to have to do," Robinson said.

No one is pushing the envelope like Robinson because you have to have a special FAA permit to fly in emergencies.

"The FAA has lightened up significantly," Robinson said.

Robinson used to wait days for permission to fly. During the floods, he got permission almost immediately.

"Acceptance. That's where we are at. We're getting acceptance," he said.

Because of that, AFD wants to see how they can join the party.

But they realize not everyone is comfortable with drones.

"We understand the concerns of government overreach and privacy concerns, and we want to address those and we want to do this the right way," Kessler said.

"They're laying the groundwork. They're laying the procedures," Robinson said. "These guys are going to be the public-service forerunners that are going to set standards."

Those standards are going to take years of work and lots of money, but AFD hopes the public and regulators alike see the good this technology can do.

"We have a great opportunity right now, and Austin is a very, very forward-thinking city. Let's take that technology and make a difference," Kessler said.

It's new territory for sure, but one with limitless possibilities.

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