Why are drones flying over local high schools?

Ohio BCI drones compiling detailed building photos to help schools in emergencies

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has begun to use drones to help local law enforcement better respond to school emergencies. Through local police departments and sheriff’s offices, districts can request a special agent fly a drone over their schools to take detailed photographs of the buildings.

Perry Roeser, BCI Special Agent, said the program began earlier this summer and is best used in situations where changes have been made to school campuses. “Traditionally you would have a high school at one location a middle school two miles down the road and and grade school. Now they’re all on one campus which makes it more dynamic and if there is ever an event at a school to know where you’re going.”

Roeser recently flew his drone above the West Liberty-Salem complex, which includes the high school, middle school and grade school in multiple adjoining buildings. The photos capture not only the buildings and parking lot but also surrounding roads and farm fields. The photos can then be uploaded to the district’s security plans on file with the state. Those plans can be readily available to first responders in case of an emergency. “You have to know where to go in, what to do, where all the plans are and where the schools sit,” Roeser said.

It was at that same complex in early 2017 that a student brought a gun into the building and fired at another student. Fortunately, no one was killed and district authorities say they learned a lot about security from the experience.

Kraig Hissong, West Liberty-Salem Superintendent, said the current Google map of the buildings still show them under construction. Hissong said with the drone photos they can get an updated bird’s eye view of their buildings that total 180,000 square feet on a 100 acre campus. “There’s a lot of ins and outs of locations and a lot of different doorways. By having the map and being able to highlight those doorways on the map, it would make it quicker for someone to respond or know what part of the building its taking place in,” Hissong said.

Parent Lissa Lee is an outspoken supporter of the district’s security efforts. She said the drone project makes sense, given that some districts have built new buildings and others may have removed buildings, fences or trees. “I think it will give first responders and teachers who have to take the fids to safety a leg up to know what’s going on around them,” Lee said.

The drone program began in June and already several dozen districts around the state have called upon BCI to take overhead photos. Roeser’s flight at West Liberty-Salem schools was the first of what may become many security photo missions in the Miami Valley. Roeser said interested school districts should contact local law enforcement agencies, who will in-turn make the request to BCI.

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