The Lancaster County Sheriff's Department on Friday used its new drone to search a cornfield for a runaway student from a nearby school.
Within an hour the department had its unmanned aerial system airborne and searching the field near 70th Street and Old Cheney Road, said Sheriff Terry Wagner.
The drone did not help in finding the girl. A citizen spotted her, called and deputies found her as she was leaving the field, Wagner said.
But this is exactly the kind of operation where drones are helpful, Wagner said.
County and city agencies will soon have a total of six drones, at a cost of more than $90,000 in public funds, based on recent purchases and those requests in the bid pipeline.
City police and city fire and rescue each have two drones, while city parks and recreation and the county sheriff have one.
Leaders of the agencies say they need their own drone and that sharing the equipment, often referred to as unmanned aircraft systems or unmanned aircraft vehicles, will not work.
“Both (city police and fire and rescue) need a drone,” said Tom Casady, public safety director for the city who oversees both police and fire and rescue. "They may need them at the same time and on short notice."
Casady touts the arrangement, with each department having its own drone but sometimes sharing pilots.
The two departments are purchasing the same model, and will have a small group of trained and certified pilots who can operate the drones.
The two departments will also each have a less expensive drone to be used for pilot training. That allows for training without putting the larger, more expensive unit in the air and putting it at risk, he said.
Drones from both departments will be used when one of the agencies needs two drones at the same time, he said.
"I think there is a great potential for these (drones) to help us," Casady said.
The Parks and Recreation Department bought a drone in April, at a cost of $17,203. They have used it for photographing vegetation to help in developing land management plans and for flying around Ascent, the glass sculpture in Tower Square, to document the condition of glass panels.
The sheriff’s department recently bought its drone, a DJI Matrice M210, which cost about $22,000, including accessories. Funding came from the department’s forfeiture funds, money and other property forfeited by those convicted of crimes, Wagner said.
The two drones purchased by Lincoln Fire and Rescue include a DJI Matrice 210 quadcopter with cases, cameras and special lenses, costing $29,378, and a less expensive $2,500 model.
The department's primary drone can fly in rain, snow and windy conditions and has a thermal imaging camera that can see through smoke, said Batallion Chief Eric Jones.
It can carry a small payload, like a life vest or rescue rope, to give to a person who has fallen through the ice at Holmes Lake, for example, or air-monitoring equipment to determine dangers associated with a damaged rail car, Jones said.
Casady expects the fire department will have many uses for the drone during fires.
Lincoln Police have a recreational-type drone, received as part of a training program in March 2017.
The department expects to purchase a more expensive drone, similar to the one bought by the Fire and Rescue Department, for about $23,800, according to Chief Jeff Bliemeister. Funding may come from general funds or forfeited assets, or both, he said.
The department's older drone has been used for several operations including a death investigation, searching for discarded property as part of a homicide investigation, aiding in the search for a missing person and assisting Lincoln Fire and Rescue in a fire, plus training.
The city recently rewrote its drone policy, which originally required permission from the mayor for any work using drones.
The new policy eliminates that requirement and allows individual departments to have their own specific drone policies.
The policies include new jargon. For example, LFRUAS is the acronym for Lincoln Fire and Rescue's unmanned aircraft system.