Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Program

Scope of Program

The Small Unmanned Aircraft System Policy (Policy) governs City of Valdez operations of the small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) Program. The sUAS Program harnesses aerial data to facilitate informed community maintenance, growth, and capable emergency response. The Program is administered by the City office of Emergency and Disaster Management (EDM). Participants are drawn from several emergency response and non-emergency response departments in the City of Valdez. 

Click here to view the current City sUAS policy.

This policy was created as a master's degree capstone project by the city's Emergency Manager. Click here to view the final project submission which offers additional information on small unmanned aircraft capabilities and program development. 

Purpose & Background of sUAS Program

Use of small unmanned aircraft (sUA) in the public sector is becoming increasingly commonplace. A sUA can be utilized by COV employees at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft, while not subject to the availability or potential limitations of a third party. Creation of the City’s sUAS Program is in response to a host of diverse issues directly affecting all persons within the incorporated limits of the COV. These issues are primarily centric to: natural and manmade hazards; City planning, maintenance, and management; and routine emergency response to complex events.   

  • Natural and Manmade Hazards. Valdez residents, and infrastructure, are exposed to earthquakes, avalanches, tsunamis, extreme snowfall, volcanic activity, flooding, terrorism, rain deluge, hazardous material release, wildfires, slope instability/landslides, glacial retreat, high winds and more.

  • City Planning, Maintenance, and Management. In 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake decimated the original Valdez town-site. Within approximately three years, the majority of town was entirely relocated to a new site. Compared with seasoned municipalities, the COV is in its physical-growth infancy. Consequently, new infrastructure and maintenance will be in progress for years to come.

  • Routine Emergency Response to Complex Events. Valdez Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and the Backcountry Search and Rescue Team (BSRT) respond to complex emergencies that require special skill-sets and tools to serve the public. Some of these incidents may include, but are not limited to: structure or wildland fires, recreationists in distress, dangerous persons, accident investigations, criminal investigations, mass casualty incidents, work-related incidents, and missing or overdue persons. 

Prior to 2021, two employees from the City’s Capital Facilities and Ports and Harbor Departments acquired sUA to informally address a few of these local issues. Their proactive efforts facilitated the aerial observation of a number of significant recent events, some of which are: flooding and erosion occurring on or in Valdez waterways (2016-2020), the construction of the New Boat Harbor (2018-2019), a vehicular homicide investigation that led to an arrest and conviction (2018), the unprecedented separation of the water-bound portion of the Valdez Glacier (July, 2019), and a back country search and rescue operation where the sUA was crucial to the discovery and rescue of four stranded packrafters in a remote section of the Tsaina River (2019). The new sUA Policy unites their experience with an organized sUAS Program designed to meet the City’s diverse needs. 

The purpose of the City sUAS Program and related policy are to centralize all sUAS Operations in the City under one overarching mechanism that:

  1. Ensures operational compliance with local, state, and federal laws
  2. Is subject to the U.S. Constitution, the Alaska Constitution, and applicable case-law
  3. Establishes sUAS Program organizational structure
  4. Promotes a contemporary sUAS Program
  5. Facilitates operational transparency for the public and City administration
  6. Demarcates training and operational requirements for the sUAS Team 
  7. Contributes to a safe public airspace through defined risk mitigation
  8. Enables informed City expansion and maintenance
  9. Increases the City’s protective capabilities for persons, infrastructure, and the environment 
  10. Safeguards sustained sUAS Operations through, accountability, competence, and public approbation