Drones were once viewed as tech toys only purchased for the novelty of taking pictures and videos from new angles. The uses for drones, however, have changed and so too have perceptions about them.
In recent weeks, we have seen drones effectively employed during recovery efforts in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Drones can be used in disaster areas long before its safe for humans to get there. They work in tandem with helicopters flying overhead to give authorities a better sense of what they will need to prioritize in the rebuilding process. Companies are also using small UAS to survey devastated areas so they can strategize rebuilding efforts. For example, drones may capture images of infrastructure like railroads or roadways to determine how they can transport necessities and building supplies to the affected areas.
The concept behind small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) is simple, but their systems can be complex. They are generally comprised of four propellers attached to a body in the middle (a quadcopter). Typically, they carry a camera on-board, and can range in size from less than a pound to 60 pounds.
The topic of drones have spurred countless conversations and endless possibilities, typically tinged with elements of fear, regulatory considerations, privacy issues, hope, and innovation. NFPA is currently working on NFPA 2400 Standard for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) used for Public Safety Operations. The proposed standard will cover the minimum requirements for operation, deployment, and implementation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) for public safety operations.
Companies are also using drones to assess damage to their buildings and real estate in Texas. Helicopters may be unable to see structural problems from afar. Companies like AT&T can use drones to assess damages to cell towers early in the game so that cell service can be preserved or restored; and the oil and gas industries can use sUAS to determine if there has been any damage to refineries or storage facilities in the wake of natural disasters.
Drones not only give their human pilots an aerial view, but can also document history. Insurance companies are assessing home damage with drones by taking before and after photos of devastation. The pictures taken help companies know what the properties in the affected areas looked like before Harvey. High definition drone photographs save time, allow for immediate damage to be documented, and can speed up the overall number of claims that adjusters can handle. This information exchange expedites the insurance process, helps homeowners to tackle home repairs quickly, and move on with their lives.
Whether you are excited for what the future might hold for drones, or remain skeptical about the idea of a sUAS flying overhead, they certainly have shown that they can be beneficial in assessing damages to properties, especially during natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.