AUSTIN – Texas game wardens are adding a new set of eyes in the sky — an Unmanned Aircraft System or UAS — they say will enhance their ability to quickly and safely surveil hard to access areas during natural disasters and search and rescue operations.
The new drone, a DJI Inspire 2, was donated through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program, which has generated over $100,000 in private donations thus far to fund purchases of specialized equipment for state game wardens.
“It will definitely be deployed during disaster events and search operations,” said Game Warden Pilot Lt. Brandon Rose. “We’re limited from using our helicopter and airplane if weather is bad. With this drone we may be able to search for missing persons in situations where we can’t use the manned aircraft. During those down times, this craft could be the difference maker in getting help and saving lives.”
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The new game warden UAS can attain a maximum speed of 58 mph and can go from 0 to 50 in 5 seconds with a range of about 4 miles.
The unit’s camera payload allows for real-time broadcast, which provides the same live HD video feed to a large HD TV screen or monitor. This feature can give rescuers and command staff a live view enabling them to make immediate and appropriate decisions that save lives.
The craft has a distinctive custom paint job and vinyl wrap similar to that on the Texas game warden helicopter, and is easily identifiable by markings on the unit’s arms that read: “Game Warden Search and Rescue.”
“This much-anticipated piece of equipment comes in the wake of the Wimberly floods, and after wardens affected 12,000 rescues and evacuations during Hurricane Harvey,” offered Waco-based Game Warden Capt. Jason Campbell. “Many of the rescues in both of these events were highly technical and presented an above average danger to the victims and wardens involved. The UAS will equip our warden first responders with the ability to identify dangers such as swift water, downed powerlines, and hazardous materials. Identifying these threats allows for greater safety of victims as well as wardens.”
Campbell went on to add, “The UAS will enhance our ability to quickly locate and guide rescuers to victim locations, and we also see the potential of the UAS as a training tool, as well as helping with reconstructing boat accident scenes.”
The UAS will be based out of Texas Game Warden Region 7 in Temple, but available for deployment statewide. Wardens are hoping to obtain additional unmanned aircraft in the future armed with thermal imaging systems for deployment throughout their eight law enforcement regions.
Visit the Gear Up for Game Wardens website to find out more about the specialty equipment needs of all eight law enforcement regions across Texas and the statewide Special Operations Unit. Working closely with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s law enforcement team, the Foundation has compiled a list of the most pressing equipment needs, which are detailed on the website. Supporters can provide funds for the priority needs, make a general donation, or learn more about the program.
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TPWD Photo: Earl Nottingham