Commissioner Basil Seggos of New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently announced that the agency has deployed a fleet of 22 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or “drones,” across the state to enhance the state’s environmental management, conservation and emergency response efforts.

They claim that current missions have greatly improved DEC’s ability to monitor and protect the state’s lands, waters, and wildlife while ensuring environmental quality and safety for residents. Commissioner Seggos said, “DEC has a wide range of responsibilities in protecting the state’s environment and ensuring the safety of our citizens and visitors, and well-being of our communities. The use of drone technology will help us do our jobs better and faster while saving taxpayer dollars. We live in a changing world with technological advances being made at an exponential rate, and UAVs give us a safe and efficient way to collect and analyze data, assess threats to the environment, and quickly respond to emergencies. This technology is helping DEC with everything from petroleum spills and wildlife surveys to search and rescue missions, forest fires, and natural disasters.”

DEC received a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA authorizing use of UAVs within national airspace and developed its UAV program with guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). At one of only six national test sites in the nation, and with staff from SkyOp, a private UAS training company. Under the guidance of the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) team at FAA’s UAS test site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome. The drones can legally fly at heights below 400 feet and are equipped with both standard and thermal infrared cameras. Each drone is operated with a remote control by a human pilot that can control the vehicle with from the ground and at distances of up to three miles.

Is that all the DEC anticipates to use the drones for? There are plans already in order to use these drones for a number of duties already, including but not limited to search and rescue missions, forest fire suppression, wildlife management and surveys, invasive species detection, and forest health evaluations. The intimidating thing is that these drones can be used at any time for any number of reasons whether we are aware of them or not.

What we didn’t know is that DEC has already used their drone technology to monitor traffic while assisting DOT at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. The DOT traffic management center has already been using live streaming Drone video to help manage and alleviate traffic congestion not visible by traditional pole cameras.

What else are they using the Drone technology for? That research I leave to you…