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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill Town Council passes policy regulation on drones

A drone
Contrib/Martin Lawton

Correction: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story misrepresented Chapel Hill Fire Chief Matt Sullivan's professional title. The story has been updated and The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error. 

Thousands of people rushed Franklin Street after UNC men's basketball won the national championship. 

While students were chanting Tar Heel cheers, local town officials worked to ensure the town's safety including the hazard drones posed.

Drone usage in Chapel Hill is a growing trend, but it is also causing safety concerns in the area. Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said various safety concerns, especially after the national championship, inspired regulation on drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration outlines restrictions and limitations on drones, and Chapel Hill passed an ordinance Oct. 11 implementing drone laws based on FAA regulations specifically for the town.

With these new ordinances in place, Hemminger said local police officers will answer to drone concerns rather than FAA representatives. Local police will be able to interact with residents using drones and restrict usage.

“I think we’re going to see an explosion of these types of technologies, and while we do have concerns for public privacy, right now we are just focusing on the safety aspect,” Hemminger said.

Chapel Hill Fire Chief Matt Sullivan said the fire department's main concern was large crowds and major community events where drones could potentially cause harm and panic in the crowd if not closely monitored and regulated. 

“Drones present some risk in major community events and big public gatherings, and what we’re trying to do is get in front of any future problems,” Sullivan said. 

He also said firefighters have brought in their personal drones to the station in Chapel Hill to see how they can be beneficial to their line of work. 

Local policy regulating drones was developed for months before it was passed. Sullivan said the policy was important to ensure the regulations weren't too restrictive for drone users but would also allow public safety workers to successfully do their jobs.

Both Hemminger and Sullivan said the drone ordinance was not implemented to outlaw drones but rather to keep the people of Chapel Hill safe. 

“We’re not out there day to day looking to take them out of the sky,” said Ran Northam, Chapel Hill community safety communications specialist. 

Hemminger said it is important for those who use drones in any sense, recreational or otherwise, to be able to use them safely and legally.

“There’s great safety benefits to drones used in the proper way, firefighters are using them all across the country,” she said.


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