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9/11 thought: If we only would have had drones

On the 13th anniversary of the day she “will never forget,” Dr. Dee L’archeveque remembered the chaos at New York’s World Trade Center across from the East River where she was emergency room director at a Queens hospital.

“I was on the phone to the ward clerk’s sister who was terrified. She was in one of the towers. We coaxed her out and got her into a door jam and told her to wait for help. Then one of the towers fell. But she was safe,” L’archeveque said Thursday.

“It was very emotional. We had a prayer meeting in the ER,” she said.

What followed was a 36-hour marathon of emergencies as she and her staff tended to patients who had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and took subways to reach the emergency room at St. John’s Hospital. Then she and the assistant emergency room director “went downtown to help spell other doctors.”

Much of the time was spent treating cuts and injuries of rescuers who had pecked through debris hoping to find survivors.

If only search-and-rescue drones that exist today could have been deployed then, “we would have found more people in the rubble” with cameras and infrared heat sensors on unmanned aerial systems, she said after opening the Nevada Unmanned Systems Business Expo in Las Vegas on Thursday.

“We didn’t have that technology to set up an unmanned system,” she said. “We could have used something like that because you couldn’t see over the rubble. Now a lot of 9/11 workers have health issues. We didn’t know any better.”

Although her talk focused on changing the beastly image of privacy-invading “drones” to helpful, search-and-rescue assets, she reflected afterward on the 9/11 chaos and how “there were no differences” then among citizens who helped without asking questions.

“It was a surreal time,” she said. “There were calls and faxes from people looking for loved ones. We had several prayer meetings that day.

“Now? The congeniality, it’s like it never happened. There’s little cooperation. People step over bodies now. I don’t see that help-one-another attitude like it was after 9/11.”

Several years after 9/11, L’archeveque and her husband, Randy Presley — a farmer with a software programming background who has flown radio-controlled model planes since he was 9 years old — moved West to pursue their careers. She works a few days a week as an emergency room physician in Blythe, Calif., or Barstow, Calif., while he focuses on melding their Reno-based Ran-Dee drone business to offer “custom solutions” for search-and-rescue operations and managing livestock on the range.

“Our (remote-controlled) helicopter doesn’t take the place of the cowboy. It makes the cowboy more efficient,” she said.

L’archeveque said the word “drone” conjures negative images of the unmanned systems industry. She’s on a crusade to reverse what she calls the “drone-phobia” mindset of using remote-controlled platforms for spying on backyards to the positive aspects of saving people who become lost in deserts and forests.

“We don’t hear about the victories. We hear about drones flying into geysers at Yellowstone” National Park, she said.

In the years since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. military has made remotely piloted MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper spy planes a weapon of choice in the global war on terrorism. They can be controlled over battlefields thousands of miles away via satellite link from ground stations at Creech Air Force Base, 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and other U.S. locations. They are equipped with high-tech video and infrared cameras for reconnaissance, and armed with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and precision-strike “smart” bombs, in the case of the Reaper, to take out “high-value” targets.

Expo organizer Chris Bennett, who has piloted Predators, said the budding, multibillion-dollar industry needs an image change.

“What it comes down to is a marketing campaign,” he said. “It’s not a Predator flying over Las Vegas with Hellfire missiles. (Instead,) we’re here to help.”

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.

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