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Port: New drones could help inspect pier damage in earthquakes

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The Port of San Francisco is scheduled to adopt its drone use policy in February. (Jessica Christian/2014 S.F. Examiner)

The Port of San Francisco is on the cusp of adopting a policy for its own drone use on the waterfront, which is due to go before the Port Commission for approval in February.

But on Tuesday at the Port Commission’s regular meeting, Port staff gave a sneak peek at the new drone policy and highlighted how the hovering gizmos could have helped after the Bay Area’s 4.4-magnitude earthquake last week.

Staff said the quake, which was centered in Berkeley, prompted an inspection of the seawall and piers.

Diana Bartram, emergency services coordinator at the Port, pointed to the earthquake as an opportunity to use camera-equipped drones to help those inspections.

By contrast, after last week’s quake the Port of San Francisco deployed four boats with Port engineers to inspect the piers visually, Port Executive Director Elaine Forbes previously told the San Francisco Examiner.

In May 2017, The City created a drone policy for government agencies. Five departments in particular were granted permission to deploy drones, but required them to adopt their own drone-use policies and adhered to certain rules to address privacy concerns.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission became the first city agency to adopt its own drone policies in August 2017, and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, San Francisco Fire Department and the City Controller’s Office may adopt policies as well.

In February, the Port is poised to adopt its drone use policy.

Use of camera-equipped drones “would increase our operational efficiency and increase safety post-disaster,” particularly of piers and the seawall, Bartram told the commission Tuesday.

In addition to inspections, Bartram said the drones may be handy in creating promotional videos and images for the Port, among other uses.

Commissioner Willie Adams welcomed the Port’s adoption of drone use. “We might as well use this new technology … it’s right at our doorstep and I think we need it.”

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