HSC first responders and emergency officials convened Friday, Nov. 18 at the Boys & Girls Club in Malvern to learn more about two state-of-the-art drones the county has recently purchased that will greatly assist first responders throughout Hot Spring County with critical and emergency search, rescue, firefighting and auxiliary efforts.

Kyle Naliborski, solutions specialist at Unmanned Vehicle Technologies (UVT), travelled to Malvern from the company’s home base in Fayetteville to meet up with HSC. Dept. of Emergency Management Director Randy Greathouse and Deputy Director Chris Gaines, along with Fire Chief Kevin Hathcock from the Southwest Rural Volunteer Fire Dept. in Social Hill.

Naliborski came to acquaint the other gentlemen with the new drones and give them the opportunity to explore their capabilities firsthand.

“What we’re here doing, is doing a basic equipment familiarization training for the Hot Spring Emergency Management Department,” Naliborski said. “They have purchased two DJI Mavic 3 thermal drones from us, in addition to a training drone, and then we’re gonna do some FAA paperwork for them as well, so they can legally access the national airspace.”

According to the UVT website, the DJI Mavic 3 is a small, foldable commercial drone that has battery optimization and a lighter airframe, both of which allow for a longer flight time. It has GPS tracking and encrypted video capabilities, wide angle sensors, an advance pilot assistance system, and powerful software that works in tangent with the mechanical shutter, which features a “Micro Four Thirds CMOS 20 MP sensor, capable of 1-7x optical zoom and 56x digital hybrid zoom” that provides impressively clear imaging, up close or at a great distance.

“Unmanned Vehicle Technologies is the number one DJI public safety dealer in the U.S.,” Naliborski noted. “we have hundreds, thousands of customers in this market space that use drones for safer operations—both for their personnel, and also for more rapid search and rescue efforts, and just, overall, more situational awareness from that eye in the sky.”

Greathouse and the others have a lot of personal experience handling drones, and the advanced equipment rose into the sky and maneuvered with ease under their manual command. They had no trouble maneuvering the drones, learning the controls, and testing the thermal capabilities of the camera function.

The DJI Mavic 3 drones Naliborski brought out were surprisingly light yet sturdy, and the way the drones hovered in the air seemed to defy gravity. Naliborski explained that’s because the drones are linked up to 24 satellites al at once, which all work in sync to keep the drones positioned in the air and under tight control at all times.

Even more surprising was the quickness with which the drones flew around in the sky, as well as the advanced motor propulsion that allows for optimal site mapping in winds up to 30 mph. The drones looked like they were ripped straight off the sci-fi silver screen. Having this kind of technology readily available to first responders is an exciting move for the county.

“Obviously we’re going to use it for search and rescue, but we’re also going to use it for wildland fires, we’ll use it for some structure fires, larger structure fires,” Greathouse said. “Basically, it gives the incident commander, whoever that may be over those scenes, it gives them a little bit more situational awareness.”

Greathouse expects the advanced technology to give the county’s first responders an edge when it comes to assessing an emergency situation and determining the best course of action.

“It allows us to rapidly deploy, by the time we get on scene, we could probably have three to five minutes,” he said. “And the big thing is, one of the big selling points is obviously search and rescue with the thermal, these drones will have thermal capabilities.”

Thermal imaging allows searchers to view a person’s infrared energy, or heat signature, from a great distance or in poor weather conditions. Greathouse is grateful that county officials had the foresight to approve the funding. He and County Judge Dennis Thornton both saw, early on, the potential for this kind of lifesaving technology.

“That is something that I had wanted to see the county get for the last two or three years,” Thornton said.

“My thought process to this was, you know, several times since I’ve been county judge there’s been maybe an elderly person that had dementia get lost, you know, wander away from the house, and they couldn’t find them,” Thornton said. “There’s also been two or three cases of children who have wandered away from the home and got lost in the woods, so I just thought this would be a great thing for the county.”

Thornton said he is excited about the thermal imaging capability in particular, which means the county can utilize the drones at night. This bonus feature can mean the difference between life and death when someone is lost in the woods on a freezing winter’s night.

“If there’s somebody out there lost, we have a much better chance of retrieving them,” Thornton said.

“When we approached the Quorum Court about this, they were very proactive towards this program, so I kind of give them kudos because they actually understood the importance and realized, the technology is out there and so therefore, we’re trying to utilize that,” Greathouse said.

“It makes our job a little easier, but it also makes us where we can work a little smarter and safer, it’s a safety thing, as well,” Greathouse said. “The technology’s there, it’s just a matter of us tapping into it, and getting the funding for it.”

Thornton said Greathouse initially asked for the county to approve the purchase and funding for one drone, but after the Quorum Court were presented with relevant information, they decided to approve the purchase of two awesome drones, plus the training accessory.

The total cost was a little over $21,000 for the complete package, but the investment is of certain benefit. The North Little Rock Police Department touts their successful drone program and partnership with UVT, and Lieutenant Jim Scott is quoted on UVT’s website praising the company’s expertise, quick service, and ample support.

Between the modern technology and the skill of the first responders who will employ it, Hot Spring County is in good hands.

“I can’t say enough good things about Randy Greathouse and Chris Gaines, the leadership they provide, they truly have a passion for what they do,” Thornton said.

“I also want to give a huge Thank You to the Quorum Court, because we went to them asking for one drone, and we explained why we wanted to do that why the county needed that and they said hey lets get two of them,” Thornton said. “Because you know, there might be something happening on the east side and something happening on the west side of the county at the same time.”

Other law enforcement and first responder agencies around the country have been making use of drone technology for years. Drones are being utilized for security, crowd control, surveillance, missing persons cases, searching for suspects, serving warrants, in fire fighting scenarios as visual aid or hot spot prevention, and in many other ways.

Thanks to Greathouse’s and Thornton’s vision, and the Quorum Court’s forward-thinking decision, Hot Spring County can now utilize this life-saving modern technology, as well.

“If is saves one life, it will be money well spent,” Thornton said. “It’s really a move in the right direction for Hot Spring County.”

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