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Pa. county emergency managers receive drone certificates

Seven county employees are now permitted to fly drones that can be used to assist with search-and-rescue and assessing emergency scenes

Mark Pesto
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

EBENSBURG, Pa. – Seven Cambria County employees last month became certified to legally fly small drones, a development that county leaders on Monday said will boost the county’s emergency response, mapping and tax assessment capabilities, among others.

Art Martynuska, Cambria County Emergency Management Agency coordinator, is one of the seven employees who became certified to pilot small unmanned aerial vehicles under Part 107 guidelines by the Federal Aviation Administration. He said that having the ability to fly drones equipped with high-definition video cameras and thermal imaging capabilities will come in handy during search-and-rescue situations.

“With search and rescue,” he said, “we can put these in the air and cover a lot of ground at one time.”

Martynuska said that drones will be of use during other emergency situations, as well.

The county currently owns two quadcopter-style drones, both of which are available for deployment at the request of emergency response agencies throughout Cambria County or nearby, he added. The county is currently developing standard operating procedures for the aircrafts’ use.

“We can also use it to size up the scene if we have a fire or a hazmat or any type of emergency situation,” he said. “It’s going to prove to be an invaluable tool.”

Another of the newly certified employees, Stephen J. Kocsis, director of the county’s Geographic Information Systems Center, said the use of unmanned aerial vehicles “will enhance our capabilities to plan and be familiarized with a landscape, and that information can be passed to first responders.”

In addition to Martynuska and Kocsis, the employees who received the certificates are Greg Schilling and Jim Boring, both of the Emergency Management Agency; Tim Spangler, of the Geographic Information Systems Center; Shannon Johns, of the Cambria County Conservation District; and Will Chittester, of the county’s Tax Assessment Office.

The members of the group completed 16 hours of what Martynuska described as “pretty intense training” at the Emergency Management Agency office, then took the certification test on Oct. 25 in Pittsburgh. All seven passed the test on the first try, he said.

Tamra Forgan, the county’s chief tax assessor, who is currently training to get her own certificate, said in a press release issued Monday by the county commissioners’ office that she considers drones “the new technology” for use in assessing rural properties and large commercial properties, among other tasks.

Similarly, John Dryzal, Cambria County Conservation District manager, said in the press release that having drones available “will improve the Conservation District’s capabilities in responding to and documenting the various investigations and inspections that we complete.”

Commissioners Thomas Chernisky, William “B.J.” Smith and Mark Wissinger said in the press release that they appreciate the hard work and cooperation of the employees who completed the certification process.


©2019 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)