Grand Forks County sheriff lauds usefulness of UAS technologies

The buzz was real, the outcome lighting up the future.

That’s what Grand Forks County Sheriff Robert Rost thought after he and his former boss, Dan Hill, witnessed an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) demonstration at the UND Wellness Center a couple years back.

“UND Aerospace Sciences professor Alan Frazier invited me and Dan—he was sheriff back then and I was a deputy—to get acquainted with this fabulous technology, see what it could do,” said Rost, who recently took part in a steering committee that organized the first-of-its-kind-anywhere UND UAS Research Compliance Committee.

“We started looking at developing a core group of people to come together to think about UAS,” said Rost. “We knew that before we used any of this technology, we needed policies, procedures and guidelines. My main goal with all of this is to assure the public that we’re not going to misuse that technology.”

Rost cites a number of public safety situations where UAS would come in handy.

“For sure, we’ve got issues that come up, such as a child lost in the middle of a grain field,” said Rost, who’s been in law enforcement since 1970 and with the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department since 1979.

“We’ve got hazmat situations, for example, where a train carrying anhydrous ammonia derails, just like what happened in Minot in 2002 (e.g. Minot, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minot_train_derailment), or a hazmat truck gets involved in an accident,” said Rost. “These are all examples of situations where you can’t necessarily send people right in. A UAS can be used in these events to safely survey the situation, where you can define where the hazard is and decide where you can safely come in from. These kinds of situations are my main interest in making use of UAS technology.”

Another big issue is traffic accidents.

“You can use a UAS to fly over the accident scene to grid it out, instead of the laborious process of using tape measures on the ground,” Rost said. “Handy technology.”

Rost appointed a deputy to join the committee after it was launched.

“We needed a group of people to deal with making sure that we don’t violate federal or state laws,” Rost said. “These aircraft can be used for a lot more than law enforcement, so we’ve got attorneys, university faculty, law enforcement and other folks — a good cross section of people — who will assure that everything in UAS operations in this region is fair and equitable. Other people elsewhere going to be looking at what we’re doing with this committee. We’re going to set the an example to be followed.”

About the UND UAS Research Compliance Committee

The University of North Dakota formed the country’s first Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Research Compliance Committee. The group aims to get ahead of federal plans to regulate UAS in terms of privacy concerns and other social issues.

The committee met recently for the first time.

“This is purely voluntary,” said Dr. Phyllis Johnson, UND vice president for research and economic development. “That’s what’s so innovative about it. We’ve got multiple stakeholders involved: first responders; city, county, and state government—including a state’s attorney, which I think is pretty cool—people from aerospace; and other faculty with backgrounds in law, philosophy, ethics, and history, so they bring a variety of perspectives.”

It’s formed like the Institutional Review Board (IRB),” Johnson said. “One of the big concerns that IRBs look at with human studies is invasion of privacy and security of private data. These are similar to the issues that we’re dealing with here with UAS. We’ve really modeled the UAS Committee on the IRB and on the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and other similar committees, all of which are mandated by federal law.”

Johnson and Barry Milavetz, professor of molecular biology and associate vice president for research development and compliance, agree that privacy is a top concern for UAS research. Milavetz proposed the UAS committee idea last summer.

“Maybe there are other important ethical issues that would arise with respect to UAS, but right now, the privacy issue is in the forefront,” Johnson said.

Contact:
Juan Miguel Pedraza, writer/editor
National Media Relations Coordinator
UND Office of University Relations
Office 701.777.6571| Cell 701.740.1321
juan.pedraza@UND.edu

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