Lynn Swearingen (c) copyright 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



Predator drones do routine domestic duty

Once-secret hardware now helps fight fires, surveys damage from floods and inspects dams and levees.

Most days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer David Gasho sends three unmanned spy planes into the skies over the rugged Sonora Desert to hunt for drug smugglers crossing into southern Arizona from Mexico.But in mid-June, as the largest wildfire in Arizona history raged, Gasho sent one of the Predator B drones soaring over residential neighborhoods in search of another threat — rogue brush fires. Working from an air-conditioned trailer, his crew aimed an airborne infrared camera through thick smoke and spotted a smoldering blaze.

Using coordinates fed from the drone, airborne firefighters then doused the hot spot from helicopters and watched over a secure Internet feed as the heat signature of the flames cooled.

It was the latest example of once-secret military hardware finding routine civilian uses. Seven surveillance drones are chiefly used to help patrol America’s borders. But in recent months, they also have helped state and local authorities fight deadly fires, survey damage from floods and tornadoes, and inspect dams and levees.

Between March and July, for example, dozens of drone missions were flown between Grand Forks, N.D., and Columbia, Mo. The Predators provided first responders and engineers with live video and radar images of widespread flooding along the Soris, Red and Missouri rivers.

During the summer, drones flew along the Louisiana Gulf Coast and up the Mississippi River to inspect flood damage and the integrity of levees.

Operators studying the drone feeds look for signs that a levee is bulging from pressure of floodwater, and advise where a swollen river may first overflow its banks. Local officials can then order evacuations and direct help to vulnerable neighborhoods.

In addition to three Predators in Arizona, Customs and Border Protection crews operate two drone aircraft out of Grand Forks, N.D., one from Corpus Christi, Texas, and another in Cocoa Beach, Fla. Plans call for adding three more drones this year.

An Example of creeping loss of Freedom. As covered before Texas in CONUS and countries overseas have now become normalized to the fly overs. With little awareness, the American Public is becoming accustomed to these “Routine” uses of Military Hardware against the Public.
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