Oak Island using drones to keep their visitors and dunes safe

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OAK ISLAND, NC (WWAY) — Oak Island is taking their beach patrol to the skies, saying its new drone program is the most efficient way to keep tabs on what’s taking place along the shore.

“We can see areas that the naked eye that’s on ground level would not necessarily be able to see right off hand,” communications manager Mike Emory said. “While the police may be at one area, or beach patrol at one area, the drone can be up in the sky, identify something in another area and help the beach patrol or even water rescue teams get to where they need to be.”

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In addition to keeping beach-goers safe, the town is also attempting to use the program to keep people off the renourished dunes.

That’s something visitor Tim Whitson says he has noticed is an issue.

“We have seen people walking on the dunes,” Whitson said. “We actually saw them this weekend. I’m like ‘hey you jackaloons, get off the dunes’. They’re trying to preserve the beach here.”

The drones are able to fly over to anyone who is walking on the dunes and talk to them through a speaker on the front.

Drone pilot Shawn Barry says that’s usually enough to get people to move back onto the outlined paths.

“We utilize the drone to keep an eye on the dunes,” Barry said. “If there happens to be anyone in the areas they’re not supposed to be, outside of the posted rope crossings. We’ll keep the drone and patrol those areas with the drone.”

Barry feels the drone program will continue to bring a number of benefits to Oak Island.

“It’s definitely a money-saver,” Barry adds. “It enhances our preparedness as well as any mitigation that we have for any future type of storms or events that could affect us in our community. So it’s definitely a game changer, and in a positive way.”

Officials say the drone program is one of the first in Brunswick County, but they hope to see other towns follow their lead.