Drones are increasingly being used for all kinds of things, from fetching supplies to landscape and irrigation workers working way out in the field, to delivering packages from online retailers. Now that Hurricane Harvey has struck, drones are helping news organizations gather video of the disaster, and assisting insurance adjusters in processing damage claims. The drones have proven to be beneficial in these efforts, because they can function even when the roads are blocked or flooded.
However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issues warnings for civilians to keep their drones our of areas where official rescue operations are using low-flying aircraft to locate and evacuate people. They’ve set up a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR), which defines areas off-limits to private drones in emergency situations, with fines for noncompliance.
When the TRF is lifted, insurers expect to make thousands of flights a week in the storm-ravaged areas. Normally, it would take a claims adjuster a full day to process three damaged houses. But with the help of a drone, he can do three an hour.
The drones are packed in suitcase-sized cases that can fit into the trunk of a claims adjuster's car, and are ready to go as soon as they’re unpacked. They are then launched and controlled via an adjuster’s tablet computer. According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules, each drone has to remain in an adjuster’s line of sight while flying below 400 feet.
About five minutes after the ‘flight’, the collected data is scanned and ready to be processed by the insurance company. Harvey is the second major hurricane to hit the U.S. since the FAA loosened restrictions on drones last June. This opened the door for drones to play a bigger role in commercial activities.
Drone operators, both amateur and professional, would like to be able to help during the emergency, searching for trapped survivors and delivering supplies. The FAA isn’t allowing this at the moment; later on, when the restrictions are lifted, the unmanned aerial vehicles are expected to play a greater role in the recovery efforts.