New Tip Line Will Help Crack Down on Dangerous Drones During Emergencies

Californians asked to help expose drone operators who threaten public safety

To protect firefighting and public safety operations in California, state officials have set up a special toll-free tip line for anyone who has information that could help law enforcement investigators locate irresponsible drone operators.

Similar to a crime tip line, those who have information about irresponsible drone operators who have flown close to disasters and emergencies can call 1-844-DRONE11 (1-844-376-6311). This telephone line is not for reporting emergencies. If a drone is being observed flying dangerously at an active disaster or emergency, the public should call 9-1-1.

Advances in technology now afford the public greater access to hobby drones.  As a result, the airspace above some disasters has become more dangerous for firefighters and law enforcement responding to emergencies – in some cases forcing crews to halt aerial emergency operations.

“This new technology is both a blessing and a curse,” said Mark Ghilarducci, Director of California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “Most drone pilots don’t necessarily intend to interfere, but those who do put us all at great risk of a mid-air collision with our first responders.”

More than a dozen hobby drones have interfered with or hampered emergency response efforts thus far in California’s 2015 fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). During the North Fire, which began on July 17 near Interstate 15 in the Baldy Mesa area, a hobby drone halted aerial tanker operations and delayed firefighting efforts.

“Hobby drones pose a very serious threat to our pilots and crews,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director. “The public and firefighters on the ground are also at risk from the aftermath of a drone strike. When hobby drone operators fly in fire zones, we can’t!” said Pimlott.

Since many people operate unmanned aircraft with little or no aviation experience, the FAA is also promoting voluntary compliance and working to educate hobby drone enthusiast about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws. The FAA has also partnered with industry and the modeling community in a public outreach campaign called “Know Before You Fly.”  The campaign recently reminded hobby drone users to respect wildfire operations. CAL FIRE also produced a video “If You Fly, We Can’t” highlighting the dangers of drones in and around wildfires.

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