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Drones used for Swimmer rescue in Miami Beach

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NEW YORK




N.Y.P.D. Drones Carrying Rafts Could Join Lifeguards in Beach Rescues​

Mayor Eric Adams, an avowed technophile, said the drones would be used to assist lifeguards at Coney Island as part of a pilot program starting this summer.



A lifeguard watches a beach from a raised chair with a bright red surfboard leaning on it.

Every year, hordes of people who cannot swim flock to Coney Island and New York City’s other public beaches, sometimes after the lifeguards have left for the day.Credit...Spencer Platt/Getty Image
Dana RubinsteinCorey Kilgannon
By Dana Rubinstein and Corey Kilgannon
Feb. 20, 2024
This summer, struggling swimmers off Coney Island might be met not just by a young lifeguard in an orange suit but also by assistance from above, in the form of a buglike device delivering an inflatable float.
The raft-bearing drone is the latest in a series of gadgets promoted by Mayor Eric Adams as a way to improve life in New York City. Discussing the drone during his weekly question-and-answer session at City Hall on Tuesday, the mayor said it would begin flying as part of a pilot project to address a chronic summer problem.
“They’re going to start out with Coney Island, and they’re going to grow from there,” Mr. Adams said, referring to the entertainment mecca on Brooklyn’s south shore. “I think it can be a great addition to saving the lives of those that we lose over the summer.”
New York City may be known for its concrete-and-steel canyons, but it boasts 14 miles of city beaches, from Coney Island in Brooklyn and Rockaway Beach in Queens to Orchard Beach in the Bronx and South Beach in Staten Island.

City officials have long struggled to improve water safety at public beaches, with their strong riptides, legions of unskilled swimmers and perennial lifeguard staffing shortages. Four people drowned last year off city beaches, all of them when lifeguards were off duty, and three drowned the year before that, city officials said. But there have been years with more drownings: In 2019, there were at least seven at Rockaway beaches alone.
Mr. Adams, a self-described “tech geek,” has already assigned a robot to patrol the Times Square subway station and promoted a lasso-like device to restrain emotionally disturbed people.
On Tuesday, he said that the drone’s operators would use a powerful speaker attached to its body to communicate both with swimmers in distress and with lifeguards trying to save them.
“Now you have eyes in the sky telling you, ‘The person is straight ahead, the person is off to your right, the person went under in front of you,’” Mr. Adams said.
Kaz Daughtry, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner of operations, posted a video on social media late last week praising the drone’s ability to drop flotation devices to swimmers in distress.

“Oh, hey!” Mr. Daughtry said, turning from his computer monitor at Police Department headquarters to face a camera. “I bet you probably thought I was playing a video game. I don’t know, maybe something like Call of Duty? Actually, I’m not.”
He said he was in fact piloting drones in the Bronx, while sitting at his desk in Manhattan. “We’re going to deploy these drones on the beach,” he announced.
A Parks Department official argued on Tuesday that the plan represented a logical progression from the city’s current use of drones at city beaches to keep an eye out for sharks, which have been sighted more frequently in recent years.
Mr. Adams is nothing if not a drone devotee. After a parking garage collapsed last April, his administration used a team with drones and a robotic dog to inspect the building. A month later, he took part in a “Mayoral Drone Forum,” where participants learned about new uses for drones. His Police Department has used them to help control crowds.
Last July, Mr. Adams released guidelines to facilitate more drone use across the five boroughs, including for purposes like inspecting building facades.

“We’re paving the way for the future use of drones here in our everyday lives, not just in emergency situations,” he said at the time. “And soon, they will help us monitor our beaches for unauthorized swimmers and hazardous conditions.”
Drones are already being used for lifesaving purposes at some European beaches, including in the Valencia region of Spain and in southwest France.
They have been tested on Long Island as well. Guards at Jones Beach, who already use drones to watch for strong riptides and monitor for sharks, have begun partnering with the New York State Police to test their efficiency as lifesaving devices, said Cary Epstein, a lifeguard supervisor there.
Water safety is a constant concern in New York City, where beaches and pools are some of the only sources of relief for crowds of often inexperienced swimmers from sweltering neighborhoods with few public swimming resources.
Affordable swim classes are few and far between, and every year, hordes of people who cannot swim flock to ocean beaches, sometimes in the hours after the lifeguards have gone home.

To locals, a Police Department helicopter hovering over a city beach has become a telltale sign of a missing swimmer.
Each winter, months before beaches and pools open, the city struggles to recruit, train and certify new and returning lifeguards to bolster one of its most chronically understaffed work forces. In recent years, short staffing has resulted in the partial closure of beaches and pools to swimmers.
Last year, the city grappled with its worst lifeguard shortage on record, partly thanks to a pitched battle between the entrenched lifeguard unions and the Parks Department, which runs the beaches and pools.
This year, the city has been working to ramp up recruitment, promising higher wages and a bonus for returning lifeguards.
The Parks Department also expanded its marketing campaign, releasing posters that paired images of actual city lifeguards on patrol with the slogan “Challenge Accepted.”

The city added more testing dates and sites this winter, including more pools outside of Manhattan, and loosened the requirement for an on-site vision exam, allowing applicants to submit an eye doctor’s letter instead.
Parks officials said on Tuesday that 424 applicants had passed the qualifying test — up from 375 at this point last year — in order to take the 16-week training and certification course needed to become a lifeguard this summer.
Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, which includes the two lifeguard unions, lauded the mayor’s safety initiative but added that “no amount of drones can replace a human being, which is why we’ve pushed so hard to increase wages and improve working conditions for our lifeguards.”
Drones at the beach may also spark privacy issues.
“Given the mayor’s propensity to turn high-tech gimmicks into a policing tool, I want to know what stops the N.Y.P.D. from using drones between rescues to survey beachgoers,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a civil rights organization in New York.
“Given how these systems shift over time, something we purchase for rescues today might be spying on sunbathers tomorrow,” he added.

Ocean lifeguards typically swim flotation devices out to distressed swimmers and accompany them back to shore.
In situations where lifeguards are off duty or cannot quickly access the swimmer, the drones could save precious moments before a swimmer goes under, Mr. Epstein, the Jones Beach supervisor, said. But getting a flotation device perfectly into the hands of a panicky swimmer is not a sure bet.
Janet Fash, 64, a veteran New York City ocean lifeguard chief, said the drones could be a helpful lifesaving tool, but that lifeguards, not the Police Department, should operate them.
“You need to be trained in recognizing a drowning swimmer,” she said. “They could potentially be a good thing, but certainly not a replacement for lifeguards.”
Dana Rubinstein covers New York City politics and government for The Times. More about Dana Rubinstein
Corey Kilgannon is a Times reporter who writes about crime and criminal justice in and around New York City, as well as breaking news and other feature stories. More about Corey Kilgannon
A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 13 of the New York edition with the headline: At Coney Island, Rescue Might Come From Sky.


 
He said he was in fact piloting drones in the Bronx, while sitting at his desk in Manhattan. “We’re going to deploy these drones on the beach,” he announced.
So much for Visual Line of Sight...
 
Probably a good use for drones but when Spring Break is over, you gotta use those expensive drones for something else and my guess is they will be used against the people.

There is a drone in this news story: