Drone technology allows Coweta first responders to evaluate tornado damage faster, safer

COWETA, Okla. — Until recently, if first responders in Coweta wanted to get a bird’s-eye view of damaged areas to search for people in need, they would’ve needed a helicopter and a lot of manpower—something the small police department couldn’t afford.

WATCH: Coweta home has roof ripped off after EF-1 tornado rolls through

Luckily, that’s not the case anymore thanks to advancements in drone technology.

It was around 10:30 p.m. Sunday night when Coweta Police Chief Mike Bell knew it was time to jump into action.

READ: Tornadoes cause damage in Oklahoma; storms rock central US

“Unlike many storms I’ve seen since I’ve been here, this one looked like it was headed right for Coweta,” Bell said. “I was listening to the radio, I informed my guys to take cover.”

Like police chiefs in many cities around Oklahoma Sunday night, he sounded the sirens and when the storm passed, it was time to begin searching.

“How bad was the damage,” he said. “Was there anybody hurt? Do we have any fatalities?”

It’s historically a large effort—that thanks to technological advancements—is no longer the case.

“What would take five teams to go out and survey, we can send the drone up and do it with one guy flying the drone,” Bell said.

Equipped with a camera, a LED spotlight and a speaker system, officers were able to search for victims from the sky Sunday without the need for sunlight thanks to the department’s state-of-the-art drone.

“If we actually see somebody on the ground that look like they were hurt, we can actually take the drone down to them and say hey are you okay,” he said.

Luckily as it surveyed the debris-littered Coweta High School stadium Sunday night, its infrared cameras didn’t pick up any signs of people in need.

“That’s phenomenal,” Bell said. “That gives me a lot of information. That gives the fire chief a lot of information.”

It’s a tool not only to identify those in need of help, but also to keep those helping them out of harm’s way.

“We can actually use it in, say, an active shooter situation,” he said. “You can send it down the hallways and survey the hallways before we send teams down the hallway.”

Which is why, in Chief Bell’s eyes, the $6,000 investment in the technology has already paid for itself.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s probably one of the best tools you can ever have.”