There are a few things that happen in our area that never fail to get the Channel 2 newsroom phones ringing: earthquakes, smoke from fires, and the Washoe County Sheriff's Office RAVEN helicopter.
On Thursday Channel 2 paid the Sheriff's Office a visit to get a little RAVEN 101 to pass along to our most curious viewers.
It turns out there are a lot of misconceptions about what exactly RAVEN does. RAVEN Chief Pilot Doug Russell said people often think that if the helicopter is in their area, that means there is a major emergency, or they could be in danger. But he said there are a lot of other reasons why people might see RAVEN flying overhead.
"Just because we're flying doesn't mean we're actually on a crime," Russell said. "We may be doing training, keeping our currencies up, so we're safe in the air."
RAVEN, which is short for Regional Aviation Enforcement, is a program that wears a lot of hats. The three RAVEN helicopters assist law enforcement with surveillance and backup, but they also do search and rescue, fire suppression, water rescues, and patrols.
Russell said the RAVEN program has saved more than 55 lives since 2009, and it has fought 41 federal fires in the last two seasons.
"It's an incredibly unique program," Russell said, "because we're the only aviation unit in Northern Nevada that does law enforcement, fire fighting, and search and rescue."
Russell said the RAVEN program makes up about half of a percent in the Sheriff's budget, and it is funded largely through drug seizure money rather than tax dollars.
He also wanted to point out that if you see RAVEN in your neighborhood, it does not necessarily mean there is an emergency. He said if there is a dangerous situation, residents can expect an automated call from Washoe County.