County staff certified as drone pilots

This story first appeared in The Meridian Star, written by reporter Thomas Howard.

The sky is the limit for Lauderdale County’s technological resources after staff from several county departments were pinned Monday as certified drone pilots.

The effort to add drones to the county’s pool of resources began in July when Lauderdale County Emergency Management Director Odie Barrett asked the board of supervisors for 14 county employees to take a drone pilot training course.

On Monday, Barrett said he and other county employees had been successful and were now licensed to fly drones by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“This is a license from the FAA,” he said. “This isn’t just a state certification. This is a federal license to operate.”

Barrett said the 80-hour class, which took place over four days, was one of the hardest training courses any 14 county employees had taken, but the effort was worth it to put drone technology to work.

“It’s one of the toughest classes we’ve done in a long time,” he said. “It was a lot of information that we had to do, and we successfully went through it.”

Lauderdale County’s drone program will include employees from the road department, LEMA and the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office.

The multi-department program will put drones to use surveying road and bridge projects, finding missing persons, recording tornado damage and more.

“Getting this team together between the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s, LEMA and other county members, I think it’s a wonderful step forward,” he said.

Board President Jonathan Wells said he appreciated the effort put in by the drone trainees to bring the county up-to-date on current technology.

“I appreciate you guys staying current and keeping us in the present, if not in the future,” he said. “So many times it feels like we’re late to the party. This is something that I’m proud you guys did. I imagine we’re at the forefront of this in our state, and I appreciate you guys doing that.”

Pictured in photo: Top: L-R; Jonas Carter (Lauderdale County Garbage Enforcement), Rush Mayatt (Lauderdale County Road Manager); Middle: L-R; Fabien Gillis (LCSD), Landon George (LCSD), Daniel Mabry (LEMA / Meridian Public Safety)

Floor: L-R; Charlie Grisham (LEMA), Wayne Robinson (LCFS), Michael Marsh (Lauderdale County Permit), Odie Barrett (LEMA), Allan Dover (LCFS); Not Shown: Bud May (LEMA / MPD), Ben Eakes (LEMA), Chris McFarland (LCSD), Clifford Holloway (LCSD); Members of the newly formed Lauderdale Unmanned Aircraft Service (LUAS) just received their Pilot Wings for completion of the FAA 107 Drone Pilot License. This new Organization will allow Lauderdale County to utilize Drones in each department to better serve our residents. LEMA is working to secure a grant to purchase 2 new drones to be used for emergencies.