Citing continued drone interference in fighting wildfires, California State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, has announced plans to introduce legislation to help protect emergency responders.
S.B.168, co-authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, Calif., would grant immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of fire-fighting, air ambulance or search-and-rescue operations.
Gaines notes that drones hold great promise for wildfire suppression and other emergency services when used properly but says he does not want rogue drones to interfere during these time-sensitive crises.
“This is maddening, and I can’t believe that hobby drones are risking people’s lives to get videos on YouTube,” says Gaines. “Just this weekend in the North Fire, cars were torched on the freeways because drones made aerial firefighting efforts impossible. This bill will help make sure the skies are clear of drones and that the brave men and women fighting these fires can do their job of protecting the public without worrying about frivolous lawsuits.”
Gatto, who also serves as chair of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, adds, “Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation. Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area doesn’t mean you should do it.”
According to Gaines, the bill is intended to indemnify emergency personnel in the event that their efforts damage an unmanned aircraft. However, he says, it is the authors’ hope and intent that effective jamming technology can keep drones away from emergency response areas and flight paths and that warnings and public education efforts can ensure that the safest, least-damaging methods for avoiding or disabling unauthorized drones will be the primary methods used in these crises.
Gaines and Gatto are also teaming on S.B.167, which increases fines and introduces the possibility of jail time for drone use that interferes with firefighting efforts. According to Gaines, this legislation stems from additional reports of private, unauthorized drones causing mission-critical tanker aircraft to be grounded during firefighting operations – putting pilots, firefighters, civilians and property at unnecessary risk.
“Private drones don’t belong around these emergencies. That is the first message I want to get out,” says Gaines. “But if one gets damaged or destroyed because it’s in the way, then that can’t lead to financial penalty for the people trying to save lives and property. It’s unfortunate, but that’s all it is. People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life. When our rescuers are risking their own lives to protect us, I want them thinking about safety, not liability.”