Drones: Know what flies

​The City of Florence has gotten a lot of mileage out of drone technology. 

The small, unmanned aircrafts have checked on construction projects and blighted property and helped create TV commercials to promote the city's downtown.

"Instead of having to climb up on a roof, you can take the picture, put it on a laptop and literally zoom down with great clarity because of the resolution of the camera," said Ray Reich, the city's downtown development manager.

But as with any relatively new initiatives and technology, drones can also run into problems. 

One of the city's first drones hit a tree and fell to the pavement.

"The one we have now actually senses when it's getting ready to run into something," said Reich. "And it will start beeping. And if you don't take avoidant reaction, it just stops right there and hovers."

The city's drone cost less than $1,400. It has infrared sensing to avoid obstacles, photography and video features, and the capability to run as long as 28 minutes and travel up to 8 miles, although the city limits its travel to comply with federal regulations.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit the altitude to 400 feet unless an operator receives a special exemption (known as a Section 333 exemption) to fly the drone at a higher altitude. Most of the better drones are preprogrammed to prohibit flying above the 400 foot level, according to Reich.

Nationwide, 42 percent of cities are using or considering using drones in municipal operations, according to a report the National League of Cities released last October.

The Center for the Study of the Drone released a study in April of 2017, Drones at Home: Public Safety Drones, that found from 2009 to 2017, at least 347 state and local police, fire and emergency units nationwide had drones.

The report listed a variety of ways government agencies across the country are putting drones to work, including: locating a missing person's body using thermal imaging sensors, taking aerial photographs of a burning six-story building, detecting illegal fireworks and reconstructing a car accident scene.

Drone coverage now offered
If a city plans to use drones, officials should develop protocols for using the devices when conducting criminal investigations, said Leigh Stoner, underwriting manager for the Association's Risk Management Services.

Local officials should also put a system in place to notify the public of drone usage and have a way to keep records of its deployment. If a drone is expected to collect evidence of a crime, the city should secure a search warrant before launching the drone, said Stoner.

Drone laws and regulations are still evolving at the federal level. In South Carolina, however, there is no specific law that regulates drones.

The SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund, which has previously provided property coverage for drones under the inland marine category, began offering drone liability coverage in January. A city may acquire coverage, provided the drone is owned and operated in accordance with applicable federal and state laws.

For more information, contact Leigh Stoner, Risk Management Services' underwriting manager, at or 803.354.4752.