According to Michael Neiger, Lead Investigator of Michigan Backcountry Search and Rescue, drones area useful tool in helping locate missing individuals.
“I’ve been involved in long-term missing persons searches and working in wilderness areas and stuff for probably 12 years and I was in the State Police before that and drone technology is a huge tool for agencies in terms of resolving cases quicker,” said Neiger. “It’s my understanding there’s not a single drone in the Upper Peninsula that’s available, they have to come from downstate for the sheriff offices and this is just a great opportunity to move the search and rescue profession in the Upper Peninsula forward and get them this tool and it’ll be available through the Marquette County Sheriff to basically anybody in the Upper Peninsula that needs it at any law enforcement agency.”
Sheriff Zyburt says the drone they have will be able to assist with search and rescue in several ways.
“Over the years Marquette County Search and Rescue have been involved in helping in large fires, floods and of course all the time we’re out there for students that get lost,” said Zyburt.
The drone they will purchase is a Matrice 300 drone which is built for commercial applications. The drone will be able to help in instances of lost people in the woods or people lost out on the water.
“The drone itself is probably around $14,000 but what the additional costs are, are the camera where it can zoom in and see things that you just couldn’t see on the ground and then infrared so it will show any type of heat that is out there and then it’ll have a very strong spotlight with it too so it’d be useful at nighttime as well,” said Zyburt.
The money will also help cover the costs of training officers to fly the drone along with purchasing of equipment to transport and run the operations. Neiger says the drone is another tool in the toolbox for law enforcement. The drone can provide a bird’s eye view and help cover an increased area as opposed to exclusively searching on foot.
“The drone’s going to have a lot of applications in addition to search and rescue it’s going to be good for accident scenes, it’s going to be good for crime scenes, hostage situations, other types of investigations, wildfires, disasters, the potential is kind of unlimited there for drownings and other things where it may not be safe to get somebody in right away or for like huge huge expansive marshes, swamps and stuff this will get some eyes up there right away,” said Neiger.
The drone will be able to help detect people signaling for help with flashlights or fires quickly and can detect clothing or vehicles before they are covered in snow. The drone is named ART (Arial Response Team) after Neiger’s late father Art Neiger.
“Mr. Neiger was actively involved in the Marquette Coast Guard Auxiliary for 40 years, he was a boy scout leader, he was a professor and advisor of Northern Michigan University for the police academy when it first started, so in honor of his dad we decided to name the drone ART,” said Zyburt.
The drone will be shared with other agencies in the Upper Peninsula if they need it. The Michigan State Police do have a drone for use in the Upper Peninsula when needed, but it takes 5 to 6 hours to transport to the area.