An interlocal agreement between Wharton County Sheriff’s Office and the City of El Campo for an unmanned drone for future emergency responses received unanimous support from Wharton County Commissioners at their meeting this month.

The only cost, County Judge Phillip Spenrath said, would be possible reimbursement of uninsured out-of-pocket damages while the city’s drone is being used by the sheriff’s department.

“It’s important for the public to know this isn’t a situation where a drone is being flown and we’re looking at people’s back yards,” Sheriff Shannon Srubar said. “I hope we never have to use it, but this would be used for major scenes where you have a major crash, or when aerial photography would be best to prove (a case) in court.”

The drone could be used also for search, rescue, and reconnaissance missions with Wharton County, according to the agreement.

El Campo’s drone will be operated only by its licensed pilot, Lucas Blanchard. He is a city employee with Unmanned Aircraft Systems certification through the Federal Aviation Administration. Before each flight, Blanchard would assess environmental obstructions and make the determination if weather conditions are favorable to fly.

The drone, purchased by El Campo in June 2020, is equipped with high-resolution video capabilities.

“Lucas had the drone out last week gatheringgis (Geographic Information System) information, performing a survey of the Tres Palacios detention pond,” El Campo City Secretary Lori Hollingsworth said. “Lucas routinely uses the drone for creating high quality and high accuracy aerial images, videos, maps and models for the city.”

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