The city is looking at bringing in drones for everything from catastrophic fires and natural disasters to tree pruning and traffic jams, officials said Monday.
Henry Jackson, deputy commissioner of Emergency Management, told the City Council agencies are considering a host of uses for the unmanned aerial vehicles — like disaster response after a major storm.
“After a large scale event, such as a coastal storm, UAVs programmed to fly over an area of damage, like the Rockaways, could be up in the air as soon as the skies clear,” he said — before it would be safe for teams to go in on the ground. “The UAVs, flying back and forth in a prescribed rectangular pattern would use aerial photography to record damage from a storm.”
The Parks Department is looking at drones that could scope out structural defects and health conditions in the tree canopy, the Department of Transportation could use them to get real time info on traffic logjams and for bridge inspections, and the Department of Buildings is exploring how drones could assist with inspections of building facades.
The FDNY is also studying using “tethered” UAVs — similar to pole cameras — to take footage at major fires, said Timothy Herlocker, director of the FDNY Emergency Operations Center.
“The FDNY would seek to deploy this technology 24/7 at second alarm or greater fires and other emergency incidents,” he said. “We believe they will…allow us to more effectively tackle the dangers presented at fires, collapses and other incidents.”
All the drone ideas are in the exploration phase and haven’t actually been deployed.
The testimony came at a Council hearing on legislation to regulate the use of drones in the skies over the city.
One bill would rein in the private use of drones — banning their flight within five miles of an airport unless air traffic control is notified, above 400 feet, during bad weather or at night. It would also ban flying drones with weapons or for surveillance.
Another piece of legislation would require anyone flying a drone for a city agency or commercial purpose to get a license and file a flight plan. The bill as originally introduced would have banned drones outright with an exception for the NYPD, but has been amended to be less sweeping.
A third would require UAVs, except for toy model airplanes, to be registered and get insurance.
There have been three dozen drone sitings in air space near JFK airport just in the last year, said Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan), the sponsor of one of the bills.
“This is an enormous danger to our safety, both in the skies and on the ground,” he said. “Drones are no longer science fiction, but very real tools of our society…Our responsibility is to create safe, sensible rules.”
City officials declined to take a position on the bills, saying they’re waiting to see what the feds will do to regulate drones.