An argument can certainly be made that aerial drones could enhance the town’s public safety departments response during emergencies.
If a person were swept out to sea while swimming or kayaking off Town Neck Beach, for example, a nimble drone could be used to quickly find that person and then guide rescue boats to them.
Drones could be used during brush fires—allowing firefighters to stay out of harm’s way while getting a bird’s-eye view at the area that is ablaze. They could also be used on the scene of structure fires or to help search for someone who is lost.
The drones could also be useful along the coastline to document erosion following a big storm or to keep an eye out for white sharks during the beach season. They might also be used to provide real-time traffic information on busy summer weekends.
Last weekend, fire officials, along with representatives from the town’s natural resources department and the harbormaster’s office, gathered at Oakcrest Cove to explore how they might put aerial drones to use.
“The long-range plan is to apply for a grant and train UAV pilots,” Fire Chief John Burke said last week.
We’re all for putting the latest and greatest technology to use for the public good. But we caution town officials not to get too carried away.
They should build their case carefully for the new tech or they might face another “boys with toys” backlash from the public like they did when the fire department got its gigantic ladder truck and its 37-foot rescue boat.
Sure, drones are far less expensive than boats and trucks, but there is still an associated cost in terms of equipment, training, and labor.
And before sending these unmanned, camera-equipped aircraft into Sandwich’s skies, the town should get to work crafting a drone use policy to protect the public’s privacy.
Currently, the town does not have a selectmen-approved drone plan such as this and the Federal Aviation Administration—which oversees drone use—does not regulate flights over residential areas.
While we see the value in these drones, we don’t necessarily want the town to have blanket authority to fly them over our homes and backyards anytime they want.