RIVERSIDE COUNTY – Two Riverside County Supervisors are working to expedite the dispatch of remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) in fighting wildfires to save both lives and property, particularly in Riverside County, where RPVs are based.

Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez and First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries will ask the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to formally support a change to federal policy regarding the procedure for authorizing the use of RPVs assigned to the California National Guard during major wild land fires.

Currently, there is a 72-hour waiting period. The two supervisors want that waiting period removed.

As background, Perez and Jeffries explain that the California National Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing is based in Riverside County and operates RPVs such as the MQ -9. In August of 2013, the predecessor to the MQ-9, the MQ -1 took off from March Air Reserve Base and headed north to provide aerial imagery for the Incident Command Team and 4,000 firefighters battling the Rim Fire.

Supervisors: Expedite Dispatch of Remotely Piloted VehiclesThat day the fire was 20 percent contained and had burned about 160,000 acres. In support of the Incident Command team the RPV flew 150 hours in support of the firefighters, identifying where the fire was spreading and mapping the perimeter of the blaze. It marked the first time an RPV was used for a domestic mission.

The fire service praised the RPV’s performance and has come to rely on the RPVs assigned in 12 states to support fire and rescue operations. Current federal policy, developed in 2015, requires the authorization to use these RPVs be approved by the Secretary of Defense.

Additionally, 72 hours must pass before the Secretary grants the request. Fire and National Guard officials agree that the approval for authorization and assignment of the RPVs should be delegated to the Adjutant Generals of the states that have been assigned to RPV missions. This speeds up the actual generation of missions in support of fire and search and rescue officials.

As the supervisors wrote their argument, California had seven wildland fires burning across the state. RPVs have proven their value to Incident Commanders and expediting the approval process may save lives and property, the supervisors argue.

Perez and Jeffries want the Board of Supervisors to direct the Executive Office and its federal lobbyist team to work with Congressional and Senate delegations to craft legislation that would allow a more expedited approval of RPVs in fighting wildfires, potentially by allowing the state’s Adjutant General to make such an authorization, and removing the mandatory 72-hour waiting period.

This is an important first step in seeking Congressional and Pentagon support to let the Adjutant General of the California National Guard use the RPVs assigned to March Air Reserve Base to assist in information gathering at major fire and rescue operations, said Thomas S. Freeman, chief policy adviser to Perez. Freeman was employed as the county’s military affairs commissioner before he retired in 2015.

“We believe the National Guard should be able to use the RPVs just like they do helicopters, aircraft and other equipment assigned to their aviation and ground units,” Freeman said.  “We join with the National Guard in asking the Congress and the Pentagon to allow the decision for use to be by the Commanding General/ Adjutant General of the National Guard. Protecting and saving lives is made easier when firefighters have all the tools they need to fight and map a fire. The RPVs are also essential for military training and joint operations with other branches of the service. Rapid approvals are essential to support public safety.”