Shawn Barry is helping take Oak Island to new heights.
He is the town’s new part-time drone pilot and can do some jobs that used to take several people and several days by inspecting and documenting infrastructure.
Barry holds a commercial license and currently operates two drones, one small and one larger. The small version is whisper quiet and may be used indoors; the larger drone is not much louder than the smaller.
Town Manager David Kelly said the core purpose of the effort is to document things like town walkovers, bulkheads, the pier, buildings and other infrastructure – such as the dunes – so the town can prove losses from disasters and receive insurance and state and federal reimbursement when called for.
The drone image, sent to an iPad, iPhone or larger controller, has a color overlay with an infrared imaging system for use at night making it useful for search and rescue, or for pointing out hotspots in the roof of a structure fire.
The unmanned aerial system, as it’s more formally known, can also carry and deliver a lifejacket, a flashlight or a radio to a person in need. Barry’s license allows him to fly it out of direct sight and at up to 400 feet, if needed. Its range is six miles, depending on the wind, and it can fly as long as wind speeds don’t exceed 24 mph.
“We’re building a database,” Kelly said. “This is where we started to get our feet wet.”
The drone also has a loudspeaker that can broadcast a pre-recorded message. Barry is experimenting with using the drone to find and warn beach-goers to stay off banned areas along the town’s new, fragile dunes. In the camera, he can see people about a half-mile away and use the loudspeaker to move them along. This is a job that would take at least two or three people in separate vehicles before acquisition of the drone.
Kelly said the drone would not be used for inspections by Development Services.
When working, Barry wears a brightly colored safety vest and drive a clearly marked town vehicle, so residents know who he is and what he’s doing.
“We’re conspicuous,” Kelly said.