Drones another tool in the county sheriff's arsenal

OREGON — The Ogle County Sheriff’s Department has another tool in their arsenal, recently purchasing a drone that can be used in applications from law enforcement to search and rescue operations.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, has proven to be effective across the country in agriculture, real estate, policing, and the military.

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle said there have been incidents in the past where the department has had to call for a helicopter, but that came with limitations especially when it came to the weather.

“We’ve been looking at purchasing a drone for quite a while,” VanVickle said. “This was a much quicker solution that we can get out and fly with the same ability. It’s much cheaper to operate and can fly in worse conditions than a helicopter can.”

VanVickle said the technology has been out for over awhile but the prices have been decreasing enough to make the purchase possible. Several department members have just completed training on the new drone, which is capable of flying in all types of weather including rain and cold temperatures.

The drone is outfitted with dual batteries, which are heated if necessary, with a flying time of up to 40 minutes. There are two cameras, one standard and one infrared for nighttime search and rescue operations.

VanVickle also explained the drone can be used in large applications, such as a cornfield rescue. By programming the field’s layout into a grid pattern from software already available, the drone will fly the entire field by itself.

The sheriff’s vehicle is specially equipped to provide a portable charge if necessary.

VanVickle said the drone’s technology can also be used for structure fires or searching hot spots and can send a video link anywhere.

“We can get the drone over a structure fire and set it to keep flying over it in a big circle. The camera will stay focused on the fire, but the drone will fly in circles,” VanVickle said. “We can send video to [Illinois Emergency Management Agency] in Springfield showing the damages that were done during the tornado.”


Fire department training

Two members from the Rochelle Fire Department and Mt. Morris Fire Protection District also participated in the two-day training class, which covered general aspects from the rules to an actual outdoor practice flying the drone.

“We were briefed on the new rules we need to follow along with how to obtain licensure to fly the drones safely,” said Ben Johnson, Rochelle Fire Department. “We had to learn how the air space around the areas affect how we fly and the rules we need to follow.”

Johnson said because Rockford Airport’s airspace covers a portion of Northern Ogle County, special rules do apply. It is also thought that having trained personnel in different sections of the county have an advantage, especially if time is a factor.

The drone can be used in several fire department applications from search and rescue to building inspections and fires.

“We can use the drone in places we might not otherwise be able to see. The tops of buildings, roofs, brick structures ready to fall,” Johnson said. “There is an element of risk involved with putting a person in that situation. With the drone, there’s no one in harms way.”