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Soon Dothan Utilities personnel will have a new weapon in the fight against power outages: a drone.

The Dothan City Commission authorized the purchase of an unmanned aerial vehicle this week for utility system inspections at a cost of $35,877. Chris Phillips, DU electric operations superintendent, said the drone –especially when equipped with a thermal camera – can help personnel better identify developing problems on the electrical grid and stop them before power outages occur.

“We can identify connections that are heating up,” he said. “We can find an insulator that is overheating and repair it before it fails. The drone is designed to withstand the magnetic field from our lines and help us do inspections on the system.”

The department already uses thermal cameras to identify potential failures on the system, but the drone will allow personnel to take a closer view of the infrastructure, Phillips said. Since members of the substation repair crews have already been trained in using the forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras, at least two of them will obtain a Federal Aviation Administration licensing needed to pilot the drone.

Additionally, Phillips hopes two electrical engineers obtain the licensing.

The drone can also assist if a natural disaster like a hurricane or tornado strikes the area. The drone can allow personnel to assess the extent of the damage and collect materials needed for repairs while other crews create accessibility, Phillips said.

Eventually water and wastewater personnel will use the drone to identify needed repairs along their systems. Water personnel can view any issues with water tanks, while wastewater staffers can use the tool to see hard-to-reach sewer lines, Phillips said.

It will take between eight and 12 weeks for Dothan Utilities to receive the drone, which Phillips hopes to put into before the year concludes.

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