Aug 26th 2016 | Posted in Texas Government Insider, Trends by Priscilla Loebenberg

Government entities are using drones in a variety of ways, from checking roof leaks to patrolling parking lots to providing a visual assist during emergency situations. McAllen Independent School District’s board president, Sam Saldivar, Jr.,  recently announced the district’s intention to purchase state-of-the-art drones, or unmanned aerial system (UAS), to patrol all campuses.

Saldivar said the drones would provide extra “eyes” around the school grounds. He also hopes the technology will help curb illegal drug activity at schools.

unmanned aerial system UASMcAllen ISD may be the first Texas school district to use drones for security. However, other districts have been using them for other purposes for years. Killeen ISD’s facilities director began using a UAS to identify pools of standing water on roofs a few years ago. A Killeen ISD spokesperson said the drone is still in service.

“KISD continues to use the UAS technology to conduct facilities documentation, imagery and property visualization within the parameters established by the Federal Aviation Administration and local flight operations. All flights are logged, to date, and there have been no breaches of safety, mishaps or damage to property since the District began UAS operations,” he said.

Killeen ISD officials said the UAS has produced cost savings for the district. The drone has been used to inspect HVAC, roofing and exterior plumbing without having staff physically climb campus structures unless repairs are needed. It was also once used to assist in an initial investigation following the report of an explosive threat at one facility.

“This proved to be a quick and effective means to gather initial information and to initiate the investigative process,” said the school official. “The utilization of the UAS system is reserved for very select tasks and safety remains the top priority at all times.”

Several school districts and their athletic boosters were using drones to record football games before the University Interscholastic League and the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools banned them. Drones are no longer allowed at scrimmages or games, but they are allowed at practices, according to league rules.

Schools are not the only places a UAS has come in handy. Earlier this month, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office used a drone to aid in an investigation. The device took aerial photos of the wooded area where a murder victim was discovered. Officials have also used drones to monitor traffic activities at the start of the school year and monitor flood conditions after recent storms.

The FAA issued new rules for UAS operation, which go into effect Aug. 29. Although many school activities qualify as hobby or recreational use, any person who is paid to operate a drone should obtain a pilot certification by passing an aeronautical knowledge test. Full rules are available here.