Every coin has two sides: Can dam site personnel survive the UAV tsunami?

One of the phrases I tend to overuse, “Every coin has two sides,” is appropriate as it relates to the approaching tsunami of potentially efficient uses for unmanned aerial vehicles.

For this blog, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV or UAS) should not be confused with drones. Within the confines of this piece, drones are defined as armed, remotely piloted aircraft deployed with the means to deliver ordinance – bombs, missiles and bullets – from air-to-air or air-to-ground.

Having established this little bit of administrative duty, onward I go!

From my perspective, it is totally cool that for less than US$600 one can buy a UAV, equip it with a high-resolution video camera and record imagery in a manner that 10 years ago was well beyond the financial ability of most people in the United States.


How fun is it to shoot (record) the family backyard picnic from a high angle heretofore unseen? Wouldn’t it be great to record your commute to work as a passenger in your car or on your bike/horse/wagon pilots your UAV while you pilot your terrestrial vehicle?

How incredibly awesome would it be to receive real-time imagery relayed from your personal UAV to your cellphone, tablet or other electronic device?

Think about it. Go on and let your imagination flow!

Your 16-year-old-daughter’s cell phone can act as a hotspot to stream live video as she pilots her UAV at an altitude of 150 feet while surveilling the neighborhood as she walks home at 2 a.m. from the neighbor’s house two blocks away.

Cool, cool, cool!

How about using UAV to surveil the physical perimeter and inspect the visible structural integrity of dam sites and hydroelectric powerhouses? Why not build facilities to handle a data link suite that consists of UHF and VHF radio relay links, a C-band line-of-sight data link and for consortiums foreign and domestic, construct K-band satellite links?

That is a no brainer, man!

Heck, why not use a three-person team on a rotating basis to pilot UAV at dams and hydroelectric facilities? A UAV team could lessen the need to employ sworn law enforcement personnel or degreed engineers to be on scene full-time.

Shucks, why not just train a technician hired from a temporary employment agency to pilot UAV on a part-time basis at your dam site, you officious keeper of expenditures? That would allow you to dispense with a significant segment of full-time employees!

Say it out loud now, “Fiscal efficiency rocks!”


According to the National Council of State Legislatures, in 2014, 35 states considered UAV bills and resolutions and 10 states enacted new laws.

Of the states that have enacted legislation, the North Carolina State Bill No. 744 has real teeth.

SB 744 creates regulations for the public, private and commercial use of UAV by the following:

• SB 744 prohibits any entity from conducting UAS surveillance of a person or private property and also prohibits taking a photo of a person without their consent for the purpose of distributing it.
• The law creates a civil cause of action for those whose privacy is violated. In addition, the law authorizes different types of infrared and thermal imaging technology for certain commercial and private purposes including the evaluation of crops, mapping, scientific research and forest management.
• Under the law, the state Division of Aviation is required to create a knowledge and skills test for operating unmanned aircraft.
• All agents of the state who operate UAS must pass the Division’s knowledge and skills test.
• The law enables law enforcement to use UAS pursuant to a warrant, to counter an act of terrorism, to oversee public gatherings, or gather information in a public space.
• The bill creates several new crimes: using UAS to interfere with manned aircraft, a class H felony; possessing an unmanned aircraft with an attached weapon, a class E felony; the unlawful fishing or hunting with UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor; harassing hunters or fisherman with a UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor; unlawful distribution of images obtained with a UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor for; and operating a UAS commercially without a license, a class 1 misdemeanor.
• The law addresses launch and recovery sites of UAS, prohibiting their launch or recovery from any State or private property without consent.
• In addition the law extends the state’s current regulatory framework, administered by the chief information officer, for state use of UAS from July to December 31, 2015.

The old coin thing

As I said in my first sentence, “Every coin has two sides.”

Yes, I think UAV are incredibly awesome pieces of tech. However, I sincerely hope and pray site owners navigate the UAV tsunami and integrate this type of tech prudently and efficiently with regard to safety, security, operation and maintenance at their facilities.

In my book, cost effective safety and security using UAV must include the “beating hearts” of sworn law enforcement and degreed engineers on site, on a full-time basis, to affect professional administration of dam safety and security.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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