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Governor Brown grounds California drone bills

Date: 2015-10-05
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Via Capitol Weekly


update 10/13/15:
Mixed Actions from Brown on Drone Legislation

California Gov. Brown vetoed down three measures over the weekend that sought to block drones from flying over schools or prisons, and which would have allowed emergency personnel to shoot down a drone if it came into a fire zone, John Howard reported in the Capitol Weekly. He added that the legislation would have carried penalties of up to $5,000 in fines and six months in jail for drone operators.

The governor said he was loathe to create new categories of criminal conduct, and had already vetoed last month legislation that would have made it a crime to fly a drone within 350 feet above private property.

The Capitol Weekly quoted from Brown’s blanket veto message, which applied to the three drone bills and six other measures: “Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same time, our jail and prison populations have exploded. Before we keep going down this road, we should pause and reflect…”

The rapid proliferation of drones captured public attention this year after firefighters reported their operations were delayed as they fought grass and wild land fires, wrote Howard. In July, efforts to halt a brush fire in San Bernardino County were delayed because a hobbyist’s drone flew into the area. State fire officials have warned that drones pose a hazard to aircraft. On at least two occasions, planes were temporarily grounded to avoid collisions with the drones.

The drone measures by Republican Sen. Ted Gaines of El Dorado Hills, whose Senate District included many counties that are often struck by major wildland fires, including El Dorado, Lassen, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Shasta, and others, included SB 168, which sought to boost fines for operators of drones that interfere with emergency operations, and protect personnel from civil liability for shooting the drones down.  Gaines’ SB 170 would have prohibited someone from “knowingly and intentionally” flying a drone over a prison or county jail, and SB 271, sought to make it an infraction to fly a drone within 350 feet over a public school campus. Exceptions in certain cases would be made for law enforcement and the news media.

In his report, Howard noted that the drone regulation struggle has not been limited to California alone.  President Obama had previously signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which set a September 2015 deadline for providing a safe path towards integration of unmanned drones into the national airspace. The FAA released new rules in February of this year for operating small commercial drones. The federal Department of Justice published its own guidelines shortly afterwards on how federal law enforcement agencies may use drones.

Currently, the FAA restricts drone usage above 400 feet, but the drones involved in California’s recent firefighting delays were reported to be flying at 800 or 900 feet. In addition, the wildfire areas where the incursions occurred were under a temporary flight restriction from the FAA, which prohibited drone flights.

US Representative Paul Cook introduced a bill in Congress earlier this year that directly addressed the recent series of drone problems faces by firefighters in Southern California. The bill, the Wildfire Airspace Protection Act of 2015, would make it a federal offense to launch a drone that interferes with fighting wildfires on federal land. “Not only did it put the lives of aerial firefighters in jeopardy, but the loss of air support for fire crews allowed the wildfire to spread,” Cook said at the time in a written statement.

Amidst all of this concern, domestic drones are becoming a quickly developing technology, and we have seen them being used effectively in search and rescue, providing aerial visual intelligence, and other missions by and for emergency responders.  The primary concern of public safety responders has to do not with commercial drones but with hobbyist drones, which fly outside of the incident command system and are posing threats to emergency operations.

Read John Howard’s full story at Capitol Weekly

See related stories which we’ve been covering on this topic:

Incident Command and Control in the Age of the UAV

Cal Guard Launches Remotely Piloted Aircraft to Search El Dorado National Forest for Missing Person

Drones Fly to the Rescue

Drones give emergency responders bird's-eye view of Utah flash flooding

UAV Provides Real-Time Video & Photo Assist in Recovery & Management of Hazmat Derailment

Maine Search and Rescue Group's Drone Use Approved by FAA

Santa Clara, Calif., Protects Against Drone-Based Threats During Large Public Events


- People, Places & Things/ (via Capitol Weekly, 10/4/15)


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