Hamilton County Sheriff's robot at home underwater

Hamilton County Sheriff's robot at home underwater

January 4th, 2012 by Ansley Haman in News

Pictured are the cooling towers at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant next to the river.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office soon will have an underwater robot to comb waterways for discarded weapons, missing persons and explosive devices.

A $110,794 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will allow the sheriff's department to buy a submersible that can take photographs and recover items up to 90 pounds from as deep as 250 feet.

An additional tether will allow the VideoRay device to reach more than 300 feet to the floor of a quarry near the airport, the deepest body of water in the county, according to sheriff's office Capt. Bill Johnson.

The Hamilton County Commission is scheduled to authorize the grant today at its 9:30 a.m. meeting. The grant will cover the robot, a 250-foot tether, computer stand and controllers, he said.

"I think it will be highly useful to the sheriff's department," Commission Chairman Larry Henry said. "To me it's a no-brainer."

The device will become the first underwater law enforcement robot in the county, Johnson said.

"Law enforcement has a tough job, and as much water as we have here and the threat of terrorism, you've got Sequoyah [Nuclear Plant] sitting up here on the river, it just gives them another tool," said Commissioner Mitch McClure, chairman of the commission's Security and Corrections Committee.

Johnson said the robot will be an asset to the county's dive team, which serves all of Homeland Security District 3 -- from Marion and Grundy counties in the west to Bledsoe and Rhea in the north and McMinn and Polk in the east -- and conducts 12 to 15 searches a year.

In addition to being able to take photos between the surface and a waterway's floor, the device will be equipped with sonar for identifying objects in murky water, Johnson said.

"It allows us to document the area undisturbed," said Sgt. Chuck Gaston, which is an advantage over a diver, who might stir the sediment.

Other advantages are speed and safety.

"It doesn't get tired. It doesn't get cold," Gaston said.

The device, about the size of carry-on luggage, also will be able to inspect vessels, Gaston said.

Gaston said the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will purchase a similar device through a grant.

With each department having the device, it will be easier for them to share knowledge and work together in searches, he said.