LACEY — Thurston County is going airborne for a number of practical purposes, but the pilots will never leave the ground.

Thurston County commissioners, who have approved a policy for flying unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, were given a demonstration Thursday of the UAV’s practical, cost-efficient uses.

Sgt. Mike Hirte with the Thurston Sheriff’s Office demonstrated the ease of flying a drone without taking off during a special meeting at the Thurston County Fairgrounds attended by county commissioners Bud Blake and John Hutchings. The drone demonstration drew several other county law enforcement, public works and emergency services officials.

Hirte explains how the sheriff’s office can use the mini-birds for law enforcement.

“You do have that person who is fleeing law enforcement and they have to be located very quickly,” Hirte said. “That’s one application. It’s very similar to a K-9 Unit. We just happen to be airborne. Another one too is major traffic accidents. When you think of any major traffic accident, it ties of traffic for hours, especially if there’s a fatality. With this capability we able to reduce the time of road closures because we able to document the scene in its entirety at a much quicker rate than somebody with a tape measurer. The other is documenting crime scenes and search and rescue is very much a big user.”

He said searchers can search a large area quicker and with less risk to their safety.

Commissioner Blake talked about how other county departments will use drones in the future.

“They can be used for multiple purposes, primarily for emergency management,” Blake said. With an earthquake, a flood or an outbreak of some sort, we want to be able to have this capability in our inventory at the county to be able to respond, to be able to take care of the citizens and the issues much faster.

Blake said the county Public Works Department can use drones to take close looks at bridges and roads far more quickly and efficiently in rural areas where it normally takes team or two or three staffers to inspect such facilities and get a three-dimensional, 360 degree view of it.

The county now has two drones for such uses.

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