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January 31, 2020

Pennsylvania officials warn against use of drones in emergency situations

Emergencies Drones
Drones Safety Pennsylvania Source/

Drone operators in Pennsylvania are reminded not to fly their devices into active emergencies, where they may cause problems for first responders.

Pennsylvania state officials reminded residents on Friday of the dangers drones can pose during emergencies, particularly to helicopters involved in potentially life-and-death situations.

More than 1.5 million drones are registered in the United States for commercial, recreational and military purposes. Their popularity continues to expand as new applications are found for them in numerous settings.

Officials from the Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and other groups are eager to see these trends continue, but they are also urging drone owners to use them responsibly and in accordance with FAA regulations.

One of the FAA's drone guidelines is not to use them to interfere with emergency response activities. It is a crime to conduct surveillance of another person in a private place, to use drones in a fashion that places another person in fear of bodily injury, or to use drones to deliver contraband.

Officials stressed the importance of keeping drones away from helicopters during an emergency response. There were 21,000 such calls for air medical service last year.

“What drone operators may not realize is that an EMS helicopter cannot land when there is a drone in the vicinity,” Deputy Secretary for Health Preparedness and Community Protection Ray Barishansky said. “This means that there may be a significant delay to getting care to a patient. This is not just an inconvenience, but it can be a life or death situation. We urge operators to be aware of regulations, and to help keep the air space safe at any emergency scene.”

Those who fail to register drones with the FAA or who use them for unauthorized purposes may be subject to civil penalties and criminal prosecution.

“It’s vital for drone operators to understand that official emergency response activities take priority over personal attempts to get pictures or video of an incident scene by using a drone, and that use of a drone during an emergency may result in significant safety issues for emergency responders as well as delay vital care to those who are injured or in need of rescue," said PEMA Director Randy Padfield.