We wouldn’t be able to afford American-made drones. There’s no way.

Oklahoma's Emergency Response at Risk: The Impact of a Proposed Drone Ban

In , a contentious legislative proposal threatens to impede emergency management operations significantly. House Bill 3068, aimed at banning the use of certain foreign-made drones, particularly from and , could strip emergency managers across the state, including those in Pottawatomie County, of a vital resource.

“We wouldn't be able to afford American-made drones. There's no way. We would have to ground what we have. They would become paperweights at that point, and our program would be non-existent,” said Chad Larman, the Pottawatomie County Emergency Management director.

This bill, authored by State Representative Chris Banning, arises from national security concerns cited by the FBI regarding Chinese drones. However, the local impact of such a ban could be profound, especially for agencies that rely heavily on these cost-effective tools.

Update: the bill will be rewritten, see below for more information.

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The Local Perspective and the National Security Concern

The Pottawatomie County Emergency Management team exemplifies the dilemma faced by many local agencies. Their drones, essential for various operations, are manufactured in China.

Larman highlights the financial impracticality of switching to American-made drones, stating that such a move would essentially ground their current fleet, rendering their drone program non-existent.

Larman underscores the importance of drones in conducting efficient searches and enhancing public safety. These tools enable emergency personnel to swiftly locate suspects or victims, a capability that is vital in time-sensitive situations.

“Being able to have that eye in the sky and being able to search a grid search really quickly to look for that suspect, to get them in handcuffs, to get them in custody is very, very crucial to public safety,” said Larman.

However, the proposed bill is rooted in a different set of priorities. State Rep. Banning's legislation is a response to the FBI's warnings about the potential national security risks posed by Chinese drones. The bill's intention is to safeguard Oklahoma from vulnerabilities that might arise from using foreign-manufactured drones.

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Potential Compromises and the Path Forward

Despite acknowledging the national security concerns, Larman reportedly suggested that there are alternative solutions. One such compromise could be the use of American-made software with foreign-made drones, ensuring security without entirely discarding the current drone infrastructure.

The bill, if passed, provides agencies until 2027 to transition to a different system. This timeline indicates an understanding of the need for a gradual shift, yet it puts pressure on agencies to find feasible alternatives that match their operational needs and financial constraints.

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We wouldn't be able to afford American-made drones. There's no way.

Balancing Safety and Practicality when it comes to Foreign Drones

The debate around House Bill 3068 in Oklahoma encapsulates a larger issue: balancing national security concerns with practical, local needs. While the intent to protect state and national interests is clear, the implications for emergency management teams cannot be overlooked.

As lawmakers consider this bill, understanding these drones' crucial role in local emergency responses is essential. The hope is that a middle ground can be found, one that secures the nation without handicapping vital emergency services.

Many people will be closely monitoring this bill's outcomes as it makes its way through the legislative process, underscoring the delicate balance between security and service in the modern era.

Update 1/31 6pm: we just received the following information from Chad Larman;

Just an FYI I had a meeting after this interview with Rep. Banning. We had healthy conversation and he has tabled this bill and wants me and other experts in the UAS field to help rewrite the bill so that it is beneficial to both sides.

I understand the National Security concern but there are options out there we can use such as American made such as DroneSense and other software.

I'm happy we had healthy conversation and are able to work together.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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