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Vail police and fire departments add drone as a public safety tool

The Vail Police Department and Vail Fire and Emergency Services have added an unmanned aerial vehicle, more commonly known as a drone, as a new public safety tool.

The UAV allows first responders to quickly gain situational awareness by providing a safe and efficient aerial observation perspective on law enforcement and other public safety incidents. Missions are accomplished with respect to the law and privacy rights of citizens. When possible, flights will be conducted from a public right of way, or from property where a public safety entity has a legal right to be.

Examples of missions where a UAV could be utilized include the following:

  • In progress calls involving a threat to the safety of any person
  • Search and rescue
  • Searches for criminal suspects
  • Surveillance of criminal suspects
  • Surveillance of both structural and wildland fires
  • Remote observation of hazardous materials incidents
  • Traffic control operations
  • Photo flights

Respecting the privacy and civil liberties of community members has been a key component in creating policies for the new program. As such, all flights will be conducted with all constitutional rights and statutory limitations applied.

The Vail UAV program is operated by two personnel, a remote pilot in command and a visual observer. The program is operated under joint Vail Police and Vail Fire and Emergency Services policy, with respect to each organization’s mission. The entire program operates under Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 regulations, as well as state and local laws. All pilots must be certified by the FAA as Remote Pilots and are required to maintain safety and proficiency standards.  

Since the program’s implementation, the UAV program has been involved in several missions, both in Vail and throughout Eagle County. The team has assisted the Avon Police Department in searching for a missing adult, assisted Vail Fire and Emergency Services in locating an injured mountain biker on lower Vail Mountain; and recently in support of the Eagle Police Department efforts to locate Sebastian Rodriguez Castro. For this incident, the UAV team flew more than 20 miles, totaling over 5.5 hours of flight time.

Please also remember that during public safety incidents — if you fly, we can’t. Introduction of recreational drones into airspace where public safety entities are operating UAVs creates an unnecessary risk to first responders, those who are in need of emergency assistance and compromises the overall incident. Similarly, recreational and public safety operated UAV’s cannot be flown in incidents involving the operation of manned aircraft (fixed-wing and helicopters), in accordance with FAA Part 107 rules and regulations, but more importantly for the safety of the community and first responders managing the incident.

The Vail Police Department would like to remind residents and guests that recreational and hobby use of UAVs is prohibited on or over Vail Mountain. Further,town of Vail ordinance prohibits the operation of UAVs in pedestrian areas of Vail Village, Lionshead Village, Ford Park, on Meadow Drive between Vail Village and Lionshead Village; and in or above a public parking structure.

Additional details regarding UAV use in the Town of Vail can be found at http://www.vailgov.com.

For more information, contact Vail Police Sgt. Randall Braucht at 970-479-2339 or rbraucht@vailgov.com; or Vail Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Craig Davis at 970-477-3416 or cdavis@vailgov.com.


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