County officials took a first look Tuesday at a draft of regulations that provide an overview of privacy objectives, training requirements and general provisions of using drones the county purchased in 2016.
The devices are considered an asset for all departments, but they will primarily benefit emergency management and search-and-rescue missions in La Plata County as well as San Juan County.
The county must approve regulations before the drones can be used in an official capacity. But because each mission will be different, the draft policy does not account for some situational concerns. An open house to gather public comment on the draft policy is set for next week.
For example, as it’s drafted, the policy recognizes that residents’ privacy is paramount and that all missions will comply with relevant privacy laws and regulations, but privacy parameters and data collection methodology will be set project by project.
County Commissioner Julie Westendorff suggested the policy could be more substantial – otherwise, the county could trip over it and be challenged by the public. If a rescue mission is carried out in San Juan County, for instance, she said it should be clear which jurisdiction’s policies apply to the mission.
Under the proposed draft, the program will be managed by La Plata County Emergency Management. Because projects will vary by circumstance, missions will be planned under different project coordinators appointed by an elected official or department head, Emergency Management Coordinator Tom McNamara said.
Project coordinators are required to only plan the projects; they need not be certified to operate the drones, which will require training with the county and Federal Aviation Administration.
If a proposed mission is a matter of public concern and one that does not involve an emergency situation that requires immediate action, a hearing could be set prior to a mission to solicit public feedback.
Policy discussions will resume in a Jan. 23 commissioner board meeting.
Emergency Management also plans to meet with the U.S. Forest Service to discuss flying drones over public lands.