Drone Photo of Hurricane Damage

DRONES: The Silver Lining in This Year’s Hurricane Season

The only good news to come out of this year’s devastating hurricane season is that drones work. Whether it’s to spot people in distress, or inspect damaged property for FEMA or insurance companies, drones are flying over and into places humans simply can’t access quickly, let alone safely.

The photo at left was captured by a drone, showing damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma making landfall in Naples, FL, on Sept. 10, 2017. [photo credit: Brian Emfinger/LSM, abcnews.go.com]

In addition, Unmanned Aerial Online reports that the Air National Guard was able to deploy Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to quickly map areas in Key West, Miami, and Jacksonville, to provide the video images that helped them quickly assess the damage and decide which areas needed the most help. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency also used drone-based radar to survey geographic points of infrastructure for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). And in the private sector, Airbus Aerial (the recently launched commercial UAS division of Airbus) has been assisting insurance companies adjudicate claims from homeowners, using a combination of data from drones, manned aircraft, and satellites to offer “before and after” imagery of hurricane locations.

With about six million Floridians without power, Jacksonville Electric Authority obtained permission from the FAA to deploy UAS to get all of its damage assessments done within 24 hours after the storm passed through, in order to help restore power more quickly. Not to be outdone, Florida Power and Light used drones to help restore electricity for its 4.4 million customers, using 49 drone teams that surveyed parts of the state that weren’t even accessible by vehicles. As Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator, said, “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the hurricane response will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country.”

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a crisis to accelerate the adoption (and approved usage) of existing technology.