Drones, A Hurricane Response and Recovery Tool?

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With the recent catastrophe from Hurricane Harvey, and Irma, Katia, and Jose on the move, hurricane season is here and it’s not leaving anytime soon. A deadly combination of violent wind and rain, hurricanes are a force of nature leaving a path of total destruction. There is, however, a new tool to aid in the response and recovery process. Drones. They can speed up the recovery process and are proving to be quite valuable

Drones assist in keeping emergency workers safe while performing search and rescue missions. They are also useful in damage inspections inspect damage in high-risk areas. When used safely, and legally, drones can be flown over structures such as fuel tanks, power lines, and railroad tracks before they can be reached by land. This allows government agencies and utilities to identify what is in most urgent need of repair.

Drones also allow insurance adjusters to more quickly process claims, enabling rebuilding efforts to get underway faster. Farmers Insurance reports that an insurance inspector using a drone can complete up to eight times the number of home inspections each day than he or she otherwise would be able to do.

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25. The Federal Aviation Administration set up an extensive temporary no-fly zone over Houston and surrounding areas. The ban included all drone operations except those specifically approved by the FAA to protect first responders in both manned and unmanned aircrafts.

“Hurricane Harvey is the first major catastrophe in which drones have been used on a large scale by both government and commercial operators,” according to Ken Long, an analyst at the Freedonia Group.  They are also likely to find widespread use if Hurricane Irma either directly strikes or skirts the east coast of Florida early next week, as current projections show.

The FAA issued over 100 drone authorization within the first 10 days, with some approvals only taking hours. Most of the approvals were for drones used in conjunction with, or on behalf of, government agencies. The systems were used for inspections, surveys, and assessments. Insurance companies also began to use drones to assess property damage and speed claims processing.

FAA Regulations

Commercial drone use is currently limited by the FAA’s rules. The rules prevent operators from flying above 400 feet, outside the visual line of sight, and night flight, unless approved. The FAA grants approvals through special waiver requests.

According to the Freedonia Group, these regulations could change with a 2018 FAA reauthorization bill being considered by Congress. Even if the current FAA regulations remain in place, US commercial drone demand will expand rapidly from what is currently an extremely small market base, according to the Freedonia Group’s Drones (UAVs) study.


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