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Brown County’s Eye in the Sky

Brown County Highway Department Assistant Engineer Andrew Lang prepares a drone for flight near the Brown County Human Services building near Center and Garden Street.

Brown County Highway Department Assistant County Engineer Andrew Lang says using a drone had added new dimensions to this work. Not only that, he admitted he finds flying the drone a lot of fun.

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If the weather is nice and the wind is under 25 mph, chances are good you may find Brown County Highway Department Assistant County Engineer Andrew Lang flying the county’s drone above county projects, including highways and ditches.

“It’s been real exciting. It gives us a different perspective on property and our stockpiles. Drones certainly help us,” Lang said.

“I won’t lie. Having this drone is like being a kid again, driving around an RC (remote control) car. It is always a fun experience to take it out for a flight.”

Brown County’s DJI Matrice 210 drone in flight with red and green lights.

“Drone technology really intrigues me. Everything from the cameras, both the thermo and fix-ed-focal HD lens, to using GPS to map flights integrates modern technology into another tool we can use to acquire data to design or inspect our projects.”

Lang said another drone benefit is getting out to open ditches to investigate damage or do annual inspections in conditions that make it inaccessible on foot or in all-terrain vehicles due to very wet conditions or crops planted in the way.

Brown County’s DJI Matrice 210 drone cost about $30,000, including training programs.

“It’s definitely a learning experience. I’m very grateful the Brown County Board of Commissioners allowed us to buy this,” Lang said.

Lang usually flies the drone with in-flight GPS at 8 mph to create a video library for drainage projects. The drone is capable of going up to 55 mph.

“We get more detail by going slow,” Lang said. “We can also take still photos.”

Brown County has 234.5 miles of open ditches and 448.6 miles of tiled ditches consisting of 56 county ditches and 25 judicial ditches.

“We bought the drone to fly the drainage ditches to check for needed repairs and establish a base line for future FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood events,” said Brown County Highway Engineer Wayne Stevens.

“The drone saves a lot of time and money checking on ditches and providing a video record of the condition of ditches,” Stevens said.

“We also bought the drone to measure our material stockpiles,” Stevens added. “The drone saves time and money measuring the amount of material in a pile. It also prevents the need for a person to crawl up the piles measuring them with an instrument, which eliminates a difficult and dangerous job.”

Stevens said he anticipates using the drone for surveying future construction projects, saving time and money.

The sheriff’s office has a thermal (heat sensing) camera to use the drone for search and rescue operations.

Another cost and time savings is planned to be realized by using the drone for commissioners to take a virtual park and recreation site tour.

“The drone has been a great tool when needed as they cover a large area in a very short amount of time,” said Brown County Sheriff Jason Seidl. “The sheriff’s office has only used the drone a couple times in getting video evidence of a large, outdoor crime scene and on standby for other calls for service.”

Lang talked about the ability to save lives in search and rescue events.

“Being the father of two younger girls, the thought of your kids going missing is a nightmare every parent does not want to experience,” Lang said. “It is very comforting that the sheriff’s department has the drone and thermal camera as another tool to aid search and rescue.”

Drone regulations including requiring it be in line of sight (within 500 feet) of its pilot and not flying at more than 400 feet in altitude. Drones can only be flown at twilight if their lights can be seen more than 3 miles away. All drone pilots much pass an aeronautics safety test every 24 months.

Other drone etiquette:

• Not flying near airports, airfields and flying at least 3 miles away from the edge of flight restriction zones.

• Stay at least 150 feet away from people and property and at least 500 feet from crowds.

• Observe your surroundings before beginning a flight plan. If there are people close enough to hear the drone, read their body language. Consider introducing yourself and explaining your flight plan.

• Be mindful of animals in the sky and on the ground.

• Stay away from disaster zones including wildfires and tsunamis. Drones can distract rescue workers, endanger rescue aircraft and create more danger if they crash or get lost.

• Understand local laws.

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