ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - The Albemarle County sheriff's office is developing a plan to become one of the first agencies in the commonwealth to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the search for missing people. A team from the office is developing a plan to train deputies and volunteers on the aerial technology.

Volunteers with the sheriff's office are leading this effort. They say having an eye in the air can speed up a search when seconds and minutes can make a difference between life or death.

David King is a reserve deputy with the Albemarle County sheriff's office.  He's helped with search and rescue missions using his helicopter.
King is now working with a team to develop a plan to use UAS to search for a missing person. The portable systems can fit in a backpack, deploy in minutes, and cover a large area of land in a short time.

“Our idea here is that with a hasty search where we know the last known position, the very first thing we want to do is go to that point, get it in the air, and take a look,” King stated.

He says the massive ground search for University of Virginia student Hannah Graham in fall 2014 spurred the sheriff's office to look into UAS technology.

“Every resource would be great in situations like that, because if you can locate somebody quicker, that's the optimal solution to get to them as quick as possible,” said Chan Bryant, chief deputy of the Albemarle County sheriff’s office.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration requires certification for an agency like the sheriff's office to use the UAS for a public purpose.

Charles Werner, a retired Charlottesville fire chief and member of the sheriff’s office volunteer team is working on a UAS plan.

“We have a small team that's exploring it, going through and identifying what the FAA regulations are, what training is required, and how would it interact in an emergency situation,” said Werner.

The volunteers say they're working with Piedmont Virginia Community College to start a training program for the unmanned aircraft systems. They’re hoping to start using the systems for search and rescue by spring 2016.