It's happened to all of us. A crash shuts down a major freeway in the metro area and you’re stuck in traffic or kept off the roads for hours.
Washington State Patrol can now open those roads back up a lot sooner thanks to its massive fleet of drones.
Expansion takes on a new meaning when it comes to WSP’s drone program or as they prefer to call it, UAV’s or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
“With us, we have I think 100 plus and we’re deploying those across the state,” Trooper Will Finn said. “If we only had three or one, we would be deploying it across the state and maybe not even be able to use it properly.”
So how are they used properly? First off, they’re primarily used for crash investigations, that includes 2017’s deadly Amtrak derailment.
“The UAVs, what they do, is they take a series of pictures allowing the investigators to map the scene basically,” Trooper Finn said.
Whenever a crash happens, roads must close for troopers to collect evidence. Those roads would often stay closed even longer, as employees physically mapped the scene by hand.
The drones are now just deployed, opening roads sometimes three or four hours faster.
“The pilot starts flying over the scene back and forth, taking a series of photos and then that information is then taken to a computer and uploaded and then a map is created or a full overview, almost like an umbrella of the incident, putting cars or bicyclists, whatever it may be that you’re investigating at that time,” Trooper Finn said.
Trooper Finn showed us an example from a recent single-car crash in Woodland.
“What they were able to do is go on some private property here without impacting the interstate or that offramp, take the UAV and put it in the air and take a series of photos,” he said. “You can see where the car was, they mapped out the skid marks that were there, they mapped out the roadway.”
Troopers are clear they don’t record anything or anyone.
“We’re not taking any video, we’re not flying over people’s homes, we’re not looking in people’s windows, all those things that folks would think when you put this device in the air,” he said.
Instead, they’re keeping things moving for drivers on the road and troopers on duty.
“They can get those instances cleaned up much quicker and then get back out there, dealing with other issues that pop up,” he said.
The drones also help with safety, so troopers aren’t out there mapping with cars flying by them in an open lane.
While mainly used for crashes, they’ve also been used to map other crime scenes.
Just to put it in perspective how large WSP’s fleet is, FOX 12 checked with Oregon State Police and they have three drones.
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