Ocean Shores police to use drones for surf rescue
The Ocean Shores Police Department is preparing to launch a program that will address one of the most challenging problems faced by public safety officials in this small seaside community, surf rescue.
At the July 9 City Council meeting, Police Chief Neccie Logan and Office Clint Potter unveiled the plan to purchase 12 small, commercial-grade drone aircraft, each to be equipped with a flotation device attached to a retrieval line. Logan told the Council that Potter approached her more than two years ago with the idea of drone-driven surf rescue and she encouraged him to research and refine it to make it a practical police application.
The program puts Ocean Shores on the cutting edge of drone surf rescue. A widely publicized drone rescue of two teens from 10-foot swells on the Australian coast this January is thought to be the world’s first actual such event, although videos demonstrating the idea in controlled settings can be found dating back to 2016.
Potter detailed the concept and showed a video of a recent successful test rescue of the chief from the not-so-scary waters of Duck Lake. The plan is to put one unit in each of the department’s 11 patrol cars and have another at the Ocean Shores Fire Department station next door to the police station on Pt. Brown Ave. NW.
Responding to a question about windy conditions on the coast, Potter, who has been with OSPD for five years, noted that he personally has flown the same drone the department plans to buy in 60 mph winds.
Logan said the drones will cost around $2,000 each and they estimate another $200 each for flotation gear. All officers will receive training on drone operations. Piloting a drone during real rescue or other operations requires FAA certification, which runs $150 every two years.
All told, the program is expected to cost around $30,000 initially. Logan said the department already has the funds, revenue generated by the 3/10ths of 1% sales tax increase earmarked for public safety and approved by Grays Harbor County voters in the August, 2016, primary election.
Following the meeting, Logan said, “I’m hoping to start training this month, get them ordered by the end of the month, and start the program by the end of August.” She said the department is already developing formal operational protocols and procedures.
The city disbanded its former surf rescue team in 2013 because of budget cutbacks, lack of funding and other issues such as liability protection.
Logan commented, “It would be impossible for us to have a surf rescue team with the amount of hours that would be involved in training alone to make it safe for them. We could always throw a bunch of guys together but safety-wise and liability-wise we would need to invest in training.
“Having something like this will keep our officers and firefighters out of the water… keep them from risking their own lives.” Already this year there have been multiple instances of personnel going into the surf in rescue situations.
“I think it’s a real positive program, one that gives us an opportunity to be able to help people without endangering our staff,” Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler commented. “And beyond surf rescue, drones give us a lot of opportunities to patrol the dunes and areas that are harder to get to.”
Chief Logan commended Potter’s efforts in developing the program, noting that the drone and related equipment used thus far were purchased by Potter. “He put a lot of his own time and effort into research and training himself. He did an outstanding job and I’m very proud of him for his effort.”