The Orange Township Fire Department will soon be able to assess the situation of an emergency incident and adjust the response before getting to the scene through the use of new autonomous drone technology.
The design of the drone was conceived by an Olentangy Orange High School alumnus Divy Shrivastava, who went on to study technology at the University of California Berkeley. Shrivastava is now the founder and chief executive officer of the tech startup Paladin Drones.
Fire Chief Matt Noble said Shrivastava approached the township about being part of a pilot project to collect data and test the drone. Friday, in a special meeting, the Orange Township Board of Trustees and the chief discussed the contractual aspects of taking part in a study with Paladin Drones.
“This has been going on for two years,” Noble said. “I’ve been able to see his concept grow to what it is now. I felt it’s a good time to be involved in the pilot project because of what I’ve seen.”
According to Noble, the drone would dispatch to an emergency ahead of first responders and send back real-time video and data as responders are en route.
“A lot of public safety agencies are using drones today — law enforcement, fire and EMS (emergency medical services),” he said. “The drones can be used in a lot of different ways. They can go into hazardous environments. They can fly around a large structure and give a lot of information where our eyes can’t see.”
Noble said there are a lot of different ways drones are utilized in public safety. He said drones are currently piloted by an individual who launches and flies the drone to the incident scene.
“What we’re looking at is doing a trial project for three months — 90 days — where the drone will be autonomous,” he said. “The pilot project for 90 days is $10,000, and the majority of that cost is in obtaining licenses. It’s basically the oversight cost of the program.”
Noble added the drone would be stationed at the firehouse. He said the fire department would give the Delaware County Emergency Communications 911 Center a list of incident types that the drone would go on.
“They would have the capability of dispatching the drone,” he said. “It would take off, and it would go to the address of the incident scene ahead of responding units, do a 360 (degree view) of the area and provide that visual feedback to the responding units so we can see what we’re coming in on.”
Noble said it would provide the needed information “on the front end,” so they could make tactical decisions.
“Do we need everything that’s responding? Can we cancel some units? Do we need to add more units because what we’re seeing is bigger?” he said. “Then we can upgrade the assignment and get those additional companies responding sooner to be able to mitigate and deal with a fire.”
Noble said once the drone has done its job, a button is pushed to signal the drone to return to home, where it lands and begins to recharge for the next incident.
“The reason why we’re doing this trial project is to really collect data,” he said. “Show the benefits and hopefully move that forward in operation with the county and other county agencies, and doing this on a much larger scale.”
The trustees were ready to sign the contract with Paladin Drones during Friday’s meeting, but they decided it was best to put it off until the next regularly scheduled meeting Monday, June 3.
Trustee Lisa Knapp discovered a non-disclosure agreement in the contract that she thought to be in violation of the Ohio Revised Code.
“It looks like to me that we’re not going to disclose anything and that would be a violation of the public records law,” Knapp said. “I’m not comfortable. They (Paladin Drones) might not be familiar with public records law. They might think that what we’re signing is that we’re not going to disclose anything except for the videos. It’s kind of gray area.”
The township’s attorney, Michael McCarthy, agreed that the scope of the non-disclosure agreement was not as well defined.
“As far as what you’re not going to agree to not disclose, I have to agree I don’t think that’s clear here,” McCarthy said. “There is no scope as to what can and can not be disclosed.”
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.