A rule change is in the works to ban the use of private drones on the grounds of the state Capitol Campus in Olympia. That includes areas around the Legislative Building, Temple of Justice and many agency headquarters.
The 486-acre campus also includes Capitol Lake, Heritage Park, Marathon Park, Centennial Park and Sylvester Park in the downtown. An estimated 500,000 people attend campus events each year, including large outdoor political rallies, and roughly 10,000 work on campus.
Errant use of drones by those wanting to film or monitor events could cause injuries.
The proposed rule from the Department of Enterprise Services makes sense. The states of Michigan, Georgia and Arkansas have similar bans, and so does Washington, D.C., according to DES.
DES sees public risks from an unmanned aircraft system – for people in the flight path of a drone and for emergency responders who might be interfered with.
“The proposed rules apply to all types of unmanned aircraft — including remote-control model aircraft and drones flown for recreational and business purposes,” a description from DES says. “The prohibition would not apply to UAS used for emergency response by law enforcement and other first response agencies, such as local fire and health departments and state and federal environmental protection agencies.”
The draft rule makes possible exceptions for the care of state buildings — subject to approval of the DES director. Having a camera-equipped drone inspect stonework on the Capitol dome after an earthquake could be safer than sending someone to rope up and rappel down the sides.
DES held four workshops with interested groups before issuing the draft rule, and concern about personal safety was expressed, agency spokeswoman Linda Kent said. Public comment continues through Dec. 28.
A formal public hearing runs from 6-8 p.m. on Dec. 22 at the DES headquarters, 1500 Jefferson St., in Olympia, and comments may also be submitted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at a survey site.
Whether the proposed state ban fits perfectly is a question that should be clarified during the public comment period. There may be a reason to let some privately owned drones fly over the Capitol Campus if they contribute to a public interest. TVW, the public affairs network, wanted to fly a camera-carrying drone over the campus for a documentary it was doing on unmanned aerial vehicles in 2014, but DES denied that request.
For clarity, a total ban like that of the National Park Service may be easiest to enforce and explain.
We see no reason why the state should not enact a rule. Sooner is better.