The sound of a drone can easily be mistaken for a bee when it takes flight.
But the new technology has been making more than a buzz around the Adams County Office of Planning & Development.
“Drone technology is so new and emerging,” said Harlan Lawson, comprehensive planner – economic/community development. “There are a lot of good uses for it.”
When Mark Clowney, the senior planner – rural development, was taking photos for the farmland preservation program, he would only be able to capture them from six feet high, he said.
A drone, which captures photography and videography, can be used to fly 200 feet into the sky “and capture the whole view in one swoop,” according to Clowney.
In 2017, Adams County officials purchased a drone known as a DJI Phantom 4 and added an iPad mini to finish off the bundle set for a total of approximately $2,000 to $2,500, added Clowney. The planning office budgeted for the technology at the time and has insurance coverage through the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), Clowney said.
Aside from the new viewpoint, the data can be used to create models on a computer, including the tracking of terrains and elevations, officials said.
Lawson said the drone has been easy to operate and “very stable” during its missions. Clowney indicated they use the word “mission” as a classification for a drone flight.
It offers “a new perspective in getting information,” according to Lawson.
“Imagery is crucial,” Lawson said. “The drone helps us do that.”
Clowney, who is the only pilot in command, must be present for missions taking place, he said. To fly the drone, a minimum of two people must be present – one being “the visual observer” and another as “the controller.”
Clowney said he took a test that pulled 60 questions from a possible 10,000 questions through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in August 2018 to become a pilot in command.
“We are always trying to find new ways to use it,” Clowney said.
The images captured from the drone can be plugged into the computer mapping program and turned into digital elevation models, according to Clowney, who noted these can assist “with conservation plan work and probably water erosion issues.”
Between 2010 and 2013, Clowney saw a magazine article featuring a planning office in Licking County, Ohio getting a drone.
“We are always trying to come up with new technologies to advance our cause,” Clowney said, noting he spoke with county officials about implementing a similar program here. But at that time, drones were found to be “surpassing” the FAA, who oversee airspace, and prompted more rules and regulations for usage, according to Clowney.
The policy for drone use in Adams County was approved at a recent commissioners’ meeting. Clowney said the policy work did not start until mid-2018 due to “busy schedules.”
With drone usage being a new feature, county officials tried finding other counties with various drones and policies, in addition to some emergency and security offices, according to Clowney.
“The fruition of the drone policy was a collaborative effort between the departments of Planning & Development, Information Technology, and the Solicitor’s Office,” Clowney said.
Adams County Solicitor Molly Mudd noted every department “must have working rules in place to use the drone.”
No other department has these rules in place just yet, according to Mudd.
Commissioner Marty Qually called it “a great tool for county government,” noting the value in saving labor costs.
“It is a much more effective way of doing business,” Commissioner Chairman Randy Phiel said.