National Opinion

June 22, 2012 • Editorial

Surveill[auth] ance drones

Americans are leery about the use of domestic drones as the Federal Aviation Administration takes on the task of developing plans to open U.S. skies to the domestic use of the unmanned aircraft by police, other agencies and individuals.

The FAA licenses a limited use of drones now, but it has been directed to identify six sites for testing how drones can be safely integrated into national airspace along with civilian and military aircraft. It has a September 2015 deadline for defining the regulations that would greatly expand their use. The FAA will draft rules setting limits on size, flight restrictions and who is permitted to operate drones.

The Department of Homeland Security uses drones to patrol the northern and southern borders. Domestic drones vary in size from a few ounces to larger ones resembling those used to conduct surveillance and other military operations overseas. Law enforcement officials see the drones already in use as a low-cost alternative to helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to conduct search-and-rescue operations, investigating an accident scene or other surveillance.

Those uses would be all right with the majority of Americans, according to a poll by the Monmouth University Polling Institute. But the majority of Americans were less supportive of drones for other traditional policing activities.

Four out of five had some concerns about their privacy, which is understandable given the possibility that in the next few years there could be thousands of high-tech drones flying unnoticed overhead.

Guest Editorial

The Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times

Weather service and hurricanes

Every summer, hurricanes threaten millions, if not billions, of dollars in economic damage, and dozens, hundreds or even thousands of deaths.

Hurricanes cannot be negotiated with; they cannot be prevented; they cannot be stopped. They are inexorable forces of nature, and the only defenses we have are quick evacuation routes, properly constructed buildings and drainage, and the meteorologists at the National Weather Service. So news that NWS workers may have to go on furlough during the height of hurricane season provokes alarming thoughts.

The NWS has spent the past several years “reprogramming” its funds, transferring $35 million away from certain projects in order to cover its payroll. There is no evidence of fraud or personal gain, just an agency trying to bridge the structural deficit between congressional funding and employee payroll, which makes up about 70 percent of the NWS budget. Unless Congress provides extra money or repurposes current funding, the NWS may have to furlough thousands of weather service forecasters or even temporarily shutter some offices.

While the current National Weather Service sits within the Department of Commerce, the national security and safety issues related to weather should not be ignored. Every summer raises the specter of that question: Will this be the year of a Category 5?

Our country is appropriately alert to any threats of terrorism, but let’s not forget that some of the greatest threats to our homeland security come not from bands of terrorists but from the west coast of Africa, where nascent weather patterns grow into destructive and deadly tropical storms.

Guest Editorial

Houston Chronicle

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