County should reconsider backing drone testing zone

By Dave Patterson

On Sept. 24, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors threw its support behind a Southern California drone testing zone. This rash decision puts San Diego County at risk for $2.7 billion in liability for the property alone if a drone goes down and starts a fire in the backcountry.

The supervisors need to rethink this position quickly before the FAA opens our skies to drones for testing purposes and puts us all at risk.

The FAA will decide if Southern California will be the home to drone testing as early as December 2013. The proposed testing area will cover virtually all of Southern California and western Nevada. While the FAA says that the drone manufacturers will be responsible for liability, realistically no business can afford $2.7 billion in property liability insurance, and nor can the county. A catastrophic fire in San Diego County caused by a drone crash would surely bankrupt the county for the foreseeable future. See page 26 of this report: www.corelogic.com/research/wildfire-risk-report/2013-wildfire-hazard-risk-report.pdf.

The latest wildfire risk assessment shows that more than 16,000 structures are at high risk of burning. In the Core Logic report, the potential for burning is a scale of 0~100, where 100 is extremely high. In San Diego County 16,000 structures have a rating of 81~100, with value assigned as $2.7 billion.

As reported by the U-T, SDG&E has already paid $2 billion in damages from the Witch Creek fire. Can we assume that the county can afford the litigation alone?

Supervisors Dianne Jacobs and Ron Roberts, who support the drone testing area because of the potential for jobs, need to ask where the people will work if their homes and businesses are burned out because of a drone crash? Aside from liability, there are many other questions that need to be answered regarding the rights of the people to be free from the noise and intrusion into their privacy. What sensors will be tested on these drones and what happens to the data recorded? Can we expect to see our family backyard picnics on YouTube soon?

Clearly, the decision to support the drone testing area was not well thought out. The county supervisors must temporarily withdraw the county’s support for the drone testing area until the idea can be thoroughly researched and public input provided.

On Dec. 4, a small group of people who call themselves the Back Country Voices will address these issues in Julian. The county supervisors need to be there.

Dave Patterson, a Ramona resident, is a member of Back Country Voices and San Diego Veterans For Peace. Veterans For Peace has been protesting against the misuse of drone technology for approximately a year

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