Mark Bathrick, 2018 Sammies finalist and director of the Office of Aviation Services at the Department of the Interior, discusses how the office’s fleet of 312 unmanned aircraft helps to fight fires, survey federal land and monitor wildlife across the country.
While most people are familiar with the military’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles, civilian agencies are using drones to complete their missions too. The Department of the Interior’s drone fleet has been deployed to monitor dams, track wildlife and fight forest fires. Because of the success of these efforts, the Interior Department’s Office of Aviation Services is a finalist for a Samuel J. Heyman medal, awarded for excellence in government. “We’ve been [at] every hurricane last year and we currently have drone teams in Hawaii working on the volcano emergency. Search and rescue, all manner of land management, mapping, wildlife surveys, there’s pretty much no use in the commercial sector that we haven’t done or we don’t plan to do,” said Mark Bathrick, Director of the Office of Aviation Services at the Interior Department. “In the future we want to actively fight fires with optionally piloted helicopters that can fly during the night and in thick smoke when other aircraft can’t fly. We want to mitigate avalanches with drones that can perhaps drop small charges and not put others in danger. One of our most dangerous missions for manned aircraft is the darting of animals. It’s not really good for the animals either, chasing them down. So, we are hoping to find drones that can do that as well.”