Senator Gaines Adds New Protections For Emergency Responders From Drone Threat

Drones Continuing to Menace Firefighting Efforts Around the State
Monday, July 20, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Responding to continued drone interference in fighting wildfires, Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) today announced plans to introduce legislation to help protect emergency responders engaged in their life-saving work.  Senate Bill 168, co-authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), grants immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations.

“This is maddening and I can’t believe that hobby drones are risking people’s lives to get videos on YouTube. Just this weekend in the North Fire, cars were torched on the freeways because drones made aerial firefighting efforts impossible. This bill will help make sure the skies are clear of drones and that the brave men and women fighting these fires can do their job of protecting the public without worrying about frivolous lawsuits,” said Gaines.

“Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation.  Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area doesn’t mean you should do it,” said Assemblyman Gatto, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.  “The legislature needs to act swiftly to make sure we send a signal that our society won’t put up with this nonsense after seeing drone operators once again interrupt firefighting efforts in the Cajon Pass.”

Gaines and Gatto are also teaming on Senate Bill 167, which increases fines and introduces the possibility of jail time for drone use that interferes with firefighting efforts.  That legislation stems from additional, alarming reports of private, unauthorized drones causing mission-critical tanker aircraft to be grounded during firefighting operations, putting pilots, firefighters, civilians and property at unnecessary risk.  Senate Bill 168 is a companion to that effort.

Senate Bill 168 is intended to indemnify emergency personnel in the event that their efforts damage an unmanned aircraft.  It is the authors’ hope and intent that the advent of effective “jamming” technology could keep drones away from emergency response areas and flight paths, and that warnings and public education efforts could ensure that the safest, least-damaging methods for avoiding or disabling unauthorized drones will be the primary methods used in these crises.

Gaines believes drones hold great promise for wildfire suppression and other emergency services when used properly by the responding agencies, but does not want rogue drones to interfere with the most effective response to time-sensitive crises.

“Private drones don’t belong around these emergencies. That is the first message I want to get out,” said Senator Gaines. “But if one gets damaged or destroyed because it’s in the way then that can’t lead to financial penalty for the people trying to save lives and property.  It’s unfortunate, but that’s all it is. People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life. When our rescuers are risking their own lives to protect us, I want them thinking about safety, not liability.”