A new law has been passed in Utah, US that will allow authorities to jam drone signals and crash devices that are flying too close to wildfires. The state governor Gary Herbert announced the signing of the law on 18 July, only three days after lawmakers met in a special session to pass the measure.
The law will technically allow firefighters to shoot down drones, but they are expected to use signal jamming technology instead as shooting UAVs down could be too difficult, said State Senator Evan Vickers, who co-sponsored the law.
The law was passed soon after 57-year-old Californian Eric Wamser was arrested for flying a drone over a wildfire in Sacramento. As Utah is currently the only state to have implemented a law that allows authorities to ground drones, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) was forced to temporarily halt aerial firefighting efforts. Wamser was not charged with flying a drone specifically, but instead was charged with a general misdemeanour and ‘interfering with firefighting efforts’, according to local news outlet KCRA. The incident occurred on 28 June, but CAL FIRE said it was only able to identify Wanser as the culprit when he made footage taken from the drone public.
In related news, UAV manufacturer DJI and AirMap, a provider of airspace intelligence and navigation services for UAVs, have added new software which could help keep unauthorised drones from interfering in firefighting operations. AirMap will now obtain wildfire information directly from the US Department of Interior’s command system, and immediately push it to drone pilots through their apps. It will also be sent to DJI’s GEO geofencing system. Although it does not stop pilots from flying drones in wildfire areas, it should help to educate and advise those that are unaware of regulations in wildfire situations. Wamser, for example, told local news outlet KCRA that he ‘wanted to see how close the flames were’ but maybe with access to up-to-date information, and had the consequences been reinforced, he would have been discouraged from flying his drone.