SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - Beware of the "No Drone Zone." That's the message from Santa Clara County officials Thursday. They're launching a public safety campaign intended to keep drones away from places they shouldn't be, including the airspace over wildfires and also over jails.
This small drone, which Santa Clara County confiscated, had a big impact last year. It grounded all planes and helicopters fighting the Eden Fire when it flew overhead.
Assistant Fire Chief John Justice with Santa Clara County Fire explains, "Because if you fly in a fire zone, we cannot fly."
Fire crews say it is simply too dangerous and that the risk of collision is too high. And the problem is growing, there have been at least 17 documented drone interference cases nationwide.
And so Santa Clara County officials have taken action, passing an ordinance to create a No Drone Zone. It's meant to keep unmanned aircraft away from wildfires.
County supervisor Cindy Chavez says, "If you use a drone in any of these areas that are restricted, you are going to lose your drone. So if you love your drone, don't fly it anywhere that is restricted."
Other restricted areas invlude the airspace above jails and juvenile detention centers. Sheriff Laurie Smith says they've had a problem with drones flying overhead, potentially dropping their payload inside the perimeter.
In one case, methamphetamine was found.
Smith says, "But my bigger concern is weapons into a secure detention facility where we have serious offenders."
The ordinance comes at a time when the state of California is also taking action. The governor signed a bill addressing drones over prisons just this week. But Smith says more still needs to be done. She's looking into technology to either intercept or block drones in the future.
She says, "This is a great first step that there are sanctions. That'll keep the everyday person away from doing it potentially, but I think we need to use technology against technology in this case, too."
According to county officials, A violation of the ordinance can result in maximum administrative fines of $1,000 per violation plus the county's enforcement costs and attorney fees. If the enforcement involves a civil court proceeding, the county may also collect a $2,500 nuisance abatement penalty. In a private right of action for interfering with emergency response, the operator's monetary liability would depend on the plaintiff's damages.
SB 1355, signed into law this week by the governor, imposes a criminal fine of $500 for knowingly and intentionally operating an unmanned aircraft system on or above the grounds of a jail or juvenile hall.