Va. first responders eyeing uses of 'drones' in emergencies

Va. first responders eyeing uses of 'drones' in emergencies (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

BLACKSTONE (WSLS 10) - As crews and volunteers intensified their efforts to find missing UVa student Hannah Graham in late September, engineers with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership said they worked with law enforcement officials to use an unmanned aerial vehicle in the search mission. 

They said it was perhaps the first use of the technology for such a purpose in Virginia's history.

Officials say now, first responders and emergency managers will learn more about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as "drones," at a meeting Wednesday at Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone. 

They say the event will feature a discussion of unmanned aircraft applications, the process to receive authorization to fly, and training and certifications needed to fly.

Qualified operators will need to receive special authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aircraft. Six test programs across the nation, including one at Virginia Tech, are working with the Federal Aviation Administration to make it easier to deploy unmanned aircraft in emergencies, such as the search for missing student Hannah Graham in October.

Authorities say the aircraft provides continuous "eyes-on-target" for situational awareness and it is useful for collecting aerial images and video in situations where manned aircraft, satellites, and ground-based photography are less effective.