Within seconds of the burglar alarm going off, a drone was airborne, arriving 90 seconds before the first police car.
The incident late last month was part of a trial project in suburban Houston to determine whether real-time video is useful to police and firefighters on the ground.
Starting next month, firefighters in Orange Township will watch their own emergencies from the sky.
Township trustees agreed to pay Paladin Drones $10,000 to allow a drone to respond to crashes, water rescues, fires and other emergencies.
In the Houston run, police used phones and computers to watch what the drone transmitted as it circled the scene. Seeing no evidence of intruders, they scaled back their response and determined it was a false alarm.
Heavily populated Orange Township has many false alarms, but for this three-month project, only firefighters, not police, will have the drone's help.
Divyaditya "Divy" Shrivastava, a 2016 Olentangy Local School District graduate, is co-owner of San Francisco-based Paladin. He said he wants to learn whether firefighters see value in the extra set of eyes. Results also will help the Federal Aviation Administration determine whether the company will be granted waivers to fly autonomously. Until then, a licensed drone pilot will work 40 hours a week as a backup.
When the $23,000 drone and camera take flight next month, proprietary software will link it to Delaware County's 911 call center. The drone automatically will be sent coordinates to the emergency scene, where it will circle for several minutes before returning, said Shrivastava.
"Our biggest goal as a company is to prove that while these drones are most valuable for emergencies, they are also useful on a daily basis," he said. "We want to prove the concept and prove that it's useful 90 percent of the time."
Ryan Rivers, chairman of the Orange Township board of trustees, said the drone program was "a great opportunity to be a leader" for a concept he wants to introduce to all of Delaware County.
"For us, we saw it as a tremendous opportunity," he said. "The technology keeps advancing and we know it's close. It just needs someone to take the initiative and be the driver and look at where it is today with the goal that this becomes a countywide program."
Rivers said fire Chief Matt Noble had been working with Paladin for about two years and was "very interested in moving forward with this."
He said the $10,000 will go almost entirely toward stationing Paladin pilots in the township's fire stations during the 90-day period, which is expected to begin in mid-July.
Rivers said he and Patrick Brandt, director of Delaware County Emergency Communications, have been discussing the idea for some time, and Rivers believes it has support at the county level.
"It's kind of cool," Brandt said. "For a quick visual inspection of an area or a rooftop, there is nothing quicker."
Flying at up to 45 mph and as high as 200 feet, the drones have an outer limit of about 5 miles, or about 25 minutes. Most trips will be shorter, he said.
Shrivastava said he got the idea three years ago when a friend's house caught fire. He heard firefighters complain about delays due to a wrong address.
Genoa fire Chief Gary Honeycutt said drones could become more useful as technology improves, noting fire departments respond mostly to medical emergencies, not fires.
A drone likely would not have helped in the response to the deaths of four township residents from carbon-monoxide poisoning in March, he said.
"What you see from the outside is completely different from what's inside. There's no telltale signs from the exterior," Honeycutt said of such an incident.
Rivers said his conversations with Shrivastava went a long way toward giving him confidence in the program.
"You need individuals with a sharp mind and the entrepreneurial spirit that's going to move this forward," Rivers said. "He struck me as a very talented individual who can get this program eventually where it needs to be."
As for other Olentangy students who could become the next Shrivastava, Rivers said he hopes the program can be an inspiration.
"There's also the education piece," he said. "We're working with the high schools and students are going to be able to take a class and be certified in drone piloting."