Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

prenny-fcnpWas that a very large mosquito, or perhaps a very small drone? The exceedingly wet summer weather produced a bumper crop of mosquitoes in Fairfax County neighborhoods, resulting in dive bomb attacks every time one steps outside. The Fairfax County Health Department reminds residents that mosquitoes can’t fly very far, so many mosquitoes are truly homegrown, right from that bucket or flower pot saucer on the patio or back step. “Tip and Toss” is an easy chore that will help you avoid creating a mosquito nursery. Just tip out the standing water, and toss plastic bags, old tarps, and anything else that can harbor even the smallest amount of water. Boats and boat covers can be among the worst offenders. In very hot weather, mosquito larvae can hatch even faster than the usual five to seven days!

So it’s not a drone, at least, not a Fairfax County drone. A proposal to develop and implement a public safety Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program was deferred by the Board of Supervisors last week, to allow additional work to resolve potential privacy issues. The UAS program development began more than a year ago, with a focus for public safety for life safety. Search and rescue, emergency management, flooding assessment, pre- and post-disaster damage assessment, and hazardous material responses are just a few of the mission types that might benefit from a UAS program. At the same time, any UAS program must be safe, effective, and maintain public trust. UAS programs also must comply strictly with Virginia Code Ann.19.2-60.1, which imposes specific warrant requirements, with certain allowable exceptions.

And there’s the rub. A drone can capture imagery and video data that may be farther reaching than intended for its public safety mission. The live video feed that is important for the flight crew (the draft program manual covers, extensively, the responsibilities of the pilot-in-command (PIC) of the drone unit) also must safeguard individuals’ rights to privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. Drone technology provides public safety personnel with a safe, reliable, and versatile tool that can expand their ability to assess and respond to emergencies more quickly and, hopefully, with appropriate resources. Drone technology also has the ability to capture other images in its flyover that may not have any relation to the incident, other than being in the flight path. Although there is no requirement or purpose to retain data for most types of UAS missions, so minimal data storage is anticipated, privacy rights must be considered and understood, which is why the Board of Supervisors asked for more community outreach. The update is expected to be presented to the Board’s Public Safety Committee in December or January, with Board consideration early in 2019.

There’s still time to catch the Spotlight by Starlight free concert series at Mason District Park. Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday night concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. Log on to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/performances to check out all the free summer concerts in our Fairfax County parks. The rained-out Capitol Steps concert has been rescheduled for Friday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. Plan to get there early!


 Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.


  • Penny Gross

    Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov