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Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office unveils high-end drone to help locate missing people

The new drone to help locate missing people with medical conditions in Loudoun County. Times-Mirror/Alex Erkiletian
The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) demonstrated Friday how its new $94,000 drone can be used to find people with medical conditions if they wander from home and become lost.

The drone is the first in the commonwealth and the sixth in the U.S. to be equipped with a Project Lifesaver antennae. The Project Lifesaver program is an electronic-based locating system for people who may have a tendency to wander from home and become lost.

Morven Park in Leesburg was the venue for the official unveiling of the drone emblazoned with the word “sheriff.” Its flying capabilities were also shown. The drone can carry infrared and high resolution cameras to better assist in search and rescue operations. Members of the LCSO Search and Rescue Team who operate the drone are licensed pilots through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and have completed an 80-hour course.

The funds for the drone came within the sheriff's office's budget out of end-of-year dollars.

“Project Lifesaver has located 23 missing people since 2010,” said Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R). He said there would be “transparency with the community” when it comes to flying the drone.

“It is very cost effective compared to flying a helicopter, plus helicopter maintenance,” Chapman added.

The LSCO currently has 107 clients in the Project Lifesaver program. All those in the program are equipped with a transmitter they either wear around their wrist or ankle that emits an automatic locating signal. If a client becomes lost the drone can be used to help locate the person. Previously, a ground responder would be used that can only cover up to three quarters of a mile.

People with medical conditions potentially benefiting from the program include people with Alzheimer's and Autism.

Tom and Heidi Bunkua's five-year-old son has autism and is now enrolled with Project Lifesaver after he went missing from a supervised children's area. He escaped through a locked gate while his mother toured a gym. He was located and returned to the children's area without his parents knowledge. They found out when a gym manager contacted them a few days later to say the matter had come to their attention.

“We feel more secure,” Tom Bunkua told The Times-Mirror. “This project is nationwide, so if say we go to Florida we can call and say we are in Florida at Disney World.”

“We don't have to pay for the program,” said Heidi Bunkua. “We are here today because we want to help raise awareness of it.”


Next up a mini sub.

I think it’s a great service for Loudoun, just think those registered should offset the cost. The sheriff’s office has many other services that have a fee. Curious on who decides whether to charge a fee or not?

Who did the county buy the drone from? Was it sent out to bid? Did the sheriff award it to a company he used to work for? When   Chapmans involved everything needs questioning

I hope none of you commenting here never have a need for this service, but until you have a family member with either dementia or autism, you have no idea the depth of the anxiety, fear, and stress caregivers go through every day, hoping that they won’t stray away from home when you do something so simple as go to the bathroom.

For those who’ve traveled this path (as I have in the past with a parent), this is a Godsend. And for those concerned with the cost, it’s much cheaper and faster to send a drone up to find an electronic signal than it is to send dozens of deputies out to search fields, woods, and subdivisions for one tiny person who may be anyplace. Note that it only looks for someone with the electronic transmitter - not for random people strolling around. So no one else’s privacy will be impacted

If buying a drone for the sheriff was on the ballot do you think it would of garnered enough votes to pass?

I count at least 5 Sheriff drones in that picture.

Why is this service free?

More toys for the government surveillance state.
Aren’t they still storing license plate data too?

How about returning “end of year dollars” to taxpayers?  Is there anything LoCo won’t spend money on?

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