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Grant Story: AVCAP’s search and rescue drone team

May 13, 2021

Katie Berkedal, Program DirectorBy Katie Berkedal, Program Director
Youth from AVCAP train to operate search and rescue drones

Area youth train to operate search and rescue drones at Goose Island in La Crosse. Photo by: Emily Pyrek of The La Crosse Tribune.

LCF grant supports area’s first search and rescue drone team – with youth at the controls

With a grant from the La Crosse Community Foundation, AVCAP and the La Crosse Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol recently trained the area’s first volunteer search and rescue drone team. Comprising about a dozen youth, adult and senior technicians and pilots, the team will be available to help local fire departments, emergency management departments and law enforcement respond to a range of emergencies.

Increasing search and rescue effectiveness while saving taxpayers thousands

“This is another unique public-private approach for La Crosse County,” said Katie Berkedal, program director of the La Crosse Community Foundation. “Not only will it be a significant aid to search and rescue missions, but it’s also a move that will save taxpayers thousands of dollars. Granting $3,000 to purchase computers for the project was an easy decision for our grants committee.”

Todd Mandel, president of AVCAP, collaborated with mission drone pilot Captain Roxanne Munns and Major Linda Zimmerman of the La Crosse Composite Squadron to develop the project. He noted that the cost for one hour of aerial search using CAP’s standard aircraft costs about $90 per hour. The cost to operate a search and rescue drone is less than $5 per hour.

Volunteer search and rescue drone team first of its kind in Wisconsin

Once fully trained, the search and rescue drone team will be available to help respond to missing person reports, disaster area reconnaissance and searches in hard-to-access areas.

“This is a significant savings for taxpayers and increases the likelihood that aerial assets can be brought into searches in the local area,” said Mandel. “That’s something we’ve not had here before. This project will establish the first cadre of dedicated volunteer drone pilots and equipment in the La Crosse area and will be the first of its kind across all of the Civil Air Patrol squadrons in Wisconsin.”

Using high-tech computers to process drone images

For search or disaster response operations, drones capture several high-resolution images. Technicians then use laptops to process the images almost instantaneously to provide to the incident commander. CAP’s national headquarters provided the high-end search and rescue drone. Now, the La Crosse Community Foundation grant has added needed computers to open participation to youth and adults at all income levels, said Zimmerman.

Training provides area youth STEM experience in real-world setting

“Aside from the obvious benefits of using drones in search and rescue and disaster relief operations, we’re also excited about the secondary benefits of this training as it provides youth with hands-on STEM and aerospace education,” she said.