DEADWOOD — The Lawrence County Commission Nov. 13 approved the purchase of a $2,000 for Lawrence County Search and Rescue.

Search and Rescue President Richard Carlson addressed the commission, requesting permission to purchase a lower-priced drone for training purposes.

“It’s really been on our agenda for the last couple of years,” Carlson said. “We wanted to get something that was much less expensive than the stuff that people are using, spending $25,000 to $30,000 in some cases … we sort of got ourselves to the spot where we thought, ‘Hey, if we get through a year and/or if we have to plan for this, and we don’t have any unforeseen repairs, and we’ve got a little room in our budget, we should buy one that’s less expensive, but still useful.’”

He added that should the money come available some day, the department will have practiced flying on the less expensive drone and perhaps crashed it a time or two.

The proposed kit is a three-battery kit, with each battery providing 20 minutes of use and a high-resolution camera. The plan is for Search and Rescue volunteers to attend an upcoming two-day training in Pennington County this January to become certified to operate the drone.

“This can cover a lot of ground pretty quickly and save the energy of the rescuers and we can concentrate on the wooded areas,” Carlson said of the drone. “And if we fast forward a year or two or three, we’ve got something with a lot more capability so it can see thermal imaging kind of thing, we’re going to be in a better place in terms of whether or not we can operate one of these kinds of things. 

Commissioner Randall Rosenau has been involved in Lawrence County Search and Rescue for quite some time.

“Having been on the ground, this would be an advantage that is hard to put a dollar sign on – maybe a life,” Rosenau said. “Because it’s difficult to get volunteers anymore, but the ground this can cover compared to a ground search on foot, is immense. This would be an advantage for our search and rescue that we should move forward with.”

Commissioner Randy Deibert pointed out that drones are not only becoming a large part of search and rescue, but law enforcement.

“Is this a cross-over that you should be sharing with the sheriff’s department and the police departments?” Deibert asked.

“I would certainly think so,”’ Carlson said, adding that fire, law enforcement, are among the uses for drones in other counties. “We get to the point where we’ve kind of got a team, a certified and licensed team, and actually that’s the way to be. Not every department needs one.”

Carlson added that way, agencies could simply ask for Lawrence County’s team, alleviating the need for every department to have a trained team.

Deibert wanted to make sure that Search & Rescue would not be using the drone until the pilot certification and licensing for the observer were complete.

“Have you checked on insurance?” Deibert asked. “Because that might be a bigger commitment than what we’re seeing here.”

Carlson said a lot of those answers will come from the class in January.

Commissioner Richard Sleep asked that since this is a learning experience, couldn’t a drone be rented to start out with until they know what they want?

“Because we are volunteers, for training, it would be a lot more convenient to have it in our building,” Carlson said, stating he is unsure of whether or not drones can be rented. “Once we’re licensed, it’s actually something we can use.”

Deibert was the sole dissenting vote on approving the drone purchase.

“My concern still is this,” he said. “If we move forward with this purchase, this training cannot take place on county property within the county auspices because we’re not insured. So you can’t fly this as a county volunteer and crash it in to somebody’s car. There’s a liability that exists. So we need to be very careful how this training is managed – number one, you have a license, and number two, you have insurance. That’s a big concern in the commercial market for drones. 

Lawrence County Emergency Management Director Paul Thomson said he has contacted insurance companies for quotes.

“And the first thing they ask is, what’s the model number of your drone, so chicken or the egg, you know,” Thomson said.

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