Sep. 12—Niagara Falls is upping its technology game again and "getting up in the air" in the process.
Falls City Council members have approved a $100,000 appropriation from the city's Tribal-Compact Revenue reserves to purchase and train operators for three drone aircraft. The city will spend just over $45,000 to purchase three drone packages from Rocky Mountain Unmanned Systems in Centerville, Utah.
Each package contains one drone aircraft, all the required hardware and software necessary to operate the drones, technical support and training for up to five operators. The Falls will spend the remainder of the appropriation on required operator licenses, which cost $7,500 a year.
The communications authorizing the unmanned aircraft program indicate that the drones will be used by the police and fire departments, the Department of Parks and Public Works and Code Enforcement.
The purchase and program were unanimously approved by the council, with Council Member Kenny Tompkins (I) noting, "This is going to be a major step forward for (Falls police). Particularly when it comes to tracking illegal ATVs."
Mayor Robert Restaino said the addition of the drones will benefit more than just the Falls police.
"We will now be able to use air space to our advantage," Restaino said, while outlining the other anticipated use of the drones.
The mayor said police use of the aircraft in various investigations and to gain better enforcement of restrictions on the use of ATVs and other off-road vehicles was "obvious." He also said he anticipates the fire department can use the drones for a variety of activities.
"The fire department is involved in gorge rescues and right now we're sending (firefighters) down into the gorge to do an assessment of the situation," Restaino said. "Now we'll be able to send a drone down into the gorge to assess what's needed."
The mayor said drones will be useful for fire department inspections by allowing firefighters to get an "up in the air view" of large buildings. He said Code Enforcement will also benefit from being able to get a better view of multi-story structures.
"That is what led us to identify the problems with the Blue Cardinal properties (on Main Street)," Restaino said. "Those were found through a drone inspection. Now we'll be able to look at a building and get a better view beyond looking at street level."
The city expects to have the drones in the air in the next few months.
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