Drones and Disasters: 3 Ways Drones Can Help People Prepare and Recover from Disasters

Living in Texas, we were recently hit by Hurricane Harvey.  Drones have played a small part in the recovery efforts to date, and will likely play a large part in the assessment and rebuilding efforts still to come.  We handle a large amount of insurance assessments, roof inspections largely, and see opportunities for drones far beyond their current implementations.

Pre and Post Disaster Documentation

When disaster strikes, people can lose almost all of their physical possessions, and while it may take some time, hopefully, insurance can help to offset that loss.  One of the best ways to prepare for a loss event is to have a well documented inventory of assets and their conditions prior to an event.  We foresee more and more people having their property and assets photographed, videod, and cataloged just in case.  Then, after a storm or other event, the recovery process can begin with documentation of the current state of affairs and the originals can be compared to for an accurate damage assessment.

Not only is this a prudent action to take, but it should be an economical and strategic one.

Emergency Mapping

Flooding can make roads inaccessible to critical supplies and to teams trying to restore basic services.  Aerial photography and videography can aid crews in finding the safest ways to access damaged infrastructure and begin the journey back to normal.  Using many photos stitched together, we can provide one large, detailed photo, of a specific area.  Then, crews can navigate safely to their desired destination.

We specifically heard of calls from Houston hospitals needing to know the state of roads around them.  If drones can speed up the delivery of necessary medications and equipment, without endangering life or property, why should they not be used?

Search and Rescue

We understand that helicopters flying in the immediate aftermath of a disaster have the absolute right of way, but when teams on the ground need faster and safer situational assessment, drones can be the answer.  Whether crews need to view the structural integrity of a building prior to entry, or find a way into a flooded neighborhood, drones can serve as a tool to speed their response and reduce the risk of injury to those involved.

Conclusion

Drones are beginning their first foray into becoming part of the disaster response toolkit, and it will take advocacy, education, and realistic expectations for them to gain larger adoption.  One of the first steps for this to become a reality is passing the current FAA Reauthorization and Modernization.  This congressional action can establish a uniform set of laws across the United States, by explicitly stating the FAA is solely responsible for regulating our national airspace because of Federal Preemption.  As long as pilots are flying safely, and providing value, there is no reason that drones cannot become an integral and useful part of future response and planning efforts.