The Cochrane RCMP are preparing for the arrival of a drone that will provide some eyes in the sky to enhance safety in the Cochrane area and the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

The Cochrane detachment is among the first to be provided a drone to assist during wildfires, emergencies, and public safety support within their detachment area.

"They can drive to the call, launch the drone with the controller from the side of the police vehicle, and then provide that aerial support to the frontline members," explains Kevin Kunetzki, K Division's Deputy Criminal Operations Officer.

"When that's not occurring, they're going to be using that drone as well to provide public safety support to their communities."

Kunetzki says the passenger seat drone program provides affordable air support to rural and Indigenous communities. He says helicopters cost about $23 million to purchase and $2.5 million annually to operate, well beyond the reach of most Canadian municipalities.

"Red Deer has been using them for about three years since the pandemic and I think they've had almost 300 deployments in that time and lots of successes in locating people and keeping the community safer. I think Cochrane will look forward to that and we'll see some strong benefit."

Cochrane detachment commander, Insp. Dave Brunner says it's a good opportunity to provide eyes in the sky for emergency calls, especially with our high traffic congestion and road construction.

"If we can send a drone to see what's going on, I believe that'll really help us."

"I don't know a time frame because we are still waiting for the delivery, but as soon as it gets here, I have two trained pilots that are ready to go and so you'll be seeing it shortly."

He says they have been keeping town officials informed and Mayor Jeff Genung was invited to Stoney Nakoda to learn about the trial flights of our Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) fleet.

The news is in addition to the Alberta RCMP's demonstration of the remote operation capabilities of its Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) fleet, where the pilot does not need to be in the same geographical area as the drone.  

drone 4RCMP Inspector Dave Brunner, left, and Kevin Kunetzki, K Division's Deputy Criminal Operations Officer at the demonstration.

Stoney Nakoda Nation was one of three areas where the RPAS trials were conducted. They were also held in Red Deer and Lac la Biche.

chiefsGoodstoney Chief Clifford Poucette and Chiniki Chief Aaron Young attended the demonstration at the Cochrane RCMP detachment.

The significance of the drones goes back in time, says Chief Aaron Young of the Chiniki Nation, who attended the RPAS demonstration. He says Cochrane was part of their territory and what we call the Big Hill was where their scouts would keep watch for enemies approaching.

"So now, a couple of hundred years later, we have these drones, so protection in viewing and scouting, I think that mandate is still in place, and with technology, our younger people will have the opportunity to maintain that mandate of protecting our women and children will still be intact."

With Mînî Thnî located about 30 km west of Cochrane, Chief Clifford Poucette, of the Goodstoney Nation believes the drones will be of great value.

drone 3One of the two drones used for the media event launches from its docking station in Mînî Thnî. Several other drones were tested.

"Safety comes first, and it will help a lot of people," he says, pointing out how it will assist with emergency calls of their EMS and fire crews as well as the police.

He says it opens the door to employment opportunities for younger members of their community who have the technological knowledge to succeed in the field.

During the June 4 to 15 pilot program, community members were invited to take a closer look. 

Pascal and EarlyPascal Richard and Earl Takahashi, of Nakoda Emergency Services, are fully trained drone pilots who were part of the trial runs in the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

Pascal Richard, protective services manager, and paramedic Earl Takahashi, both with Nakoda Emergency Services, have been fully trained as drone pilots and will play a significant role should the RCMP introduce the regular use of drones in the Stony Nakoda air space. They will be the eyes on the ground monitoring conditions before clearing any flights. As well, they'll have the ability to take over control of the drones when necessary.

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The demonstration stationed out of the Cochrane detachment saw the drones operated remotely out of Edmonton and Cochrane. In Mînî Thnî, the drones were again operated remotely and the ability to take command of flights locally was demonstrated.

Pioneering the use of drones for emergency calls in North America was the Chula Vista, CA police who established a program called Drone as First Responder two years ago.

"They've got a population of 286,000 people and they can be anywhere in their city within a minute and 30 seconds on average," says Kunetzki. "That's a pretty incredible response time to get eyes-on, and have situational awareness."

Officers will receive the video feed from the drones in real-time on their phones.

"We say a picture is worth a thousand words, well they're getting that picture in real-time."