Drone technology prevents disaster along the rail line | NevadaAppeal.com

Drone technology prevents disaster along the rail line

Steve Ranson
sranson@lahontanvalleynews.com

In a mock exercise using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, more commonly known as a drone, the city of Fallon recently mounted a search looking for a suicidal man who had trespassed on railroad property.

The Fallon Police Department responded to a report of a man walking along the rail spur between North Maine and Taylor streets.

Looking for a suicidal person along the tracks is not confined to one segment of the country or another. The Federal Railroad Administration reports an increase in the number of trespassers on the rails. According to a report, rail suicides ranged from 340 three years ago to 127 through August of this year. Rich Gent of Hot Rail Security said Nevada average two rail suicides per year.

"One thing people don't think about is the horrible trauma that the train crews and first responders have to deal with in these types of situations," he said. "Some train crews never come back to work after experiencing one of these incidents."

The city along with Hot Rail Security and drone experts Flight Text Concierge LLC and Vertical Vantage Inc. developed a scenario that involved a suicidal person walking along the tracks. In this situation, a mother of a distraught teen called the Fallon Police Department after receiving a disturbing text from her son. Panicked, she can't contact him, and she feels he is suicidal.

Lacey Szekely, an Army veteran who flew helicopters in Afghanistan, provided the drone, and once it was airborne, she maneuvered its path, while others watched video of the ground near the railroad tracks.

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Gent said the railroad tracks are accessible through Fallon, but the scenario targeted an out-of-the-way location. In looking for an individual, the FPD can ping a signal off a cellphone when looking for the individual.

"It's difficult to find someone from Hazen to Highway 95," Gent said during the exercise. "The drone can assist us to search for the distraught individual."

The drone houses a small camper, and images are transmitted back to the operator and a policeman. A limiting factor, though, is that the operator must have visual sight of the drone because of obstacles such as power lines.

"The drone is the cheapest thing," said Steve Endacott, the city's emergency manager.

Gent said it is a challenge locating the suicidal individual, especially in Nevada.

"We have such vast and open spaces here in Nevada (that) using a drone will provide local law enforcement with eyes in the sky and allow them to cover a large area in a shorter period of time," he said.

Gent said using drone technology is new in rail public safety. By using a drone to search for a suicidal person, for example, he said agencies are able to keep people off the tracks, save lives and keep trains and train crews rolling.