Drones used in hurricane Harvey to aid Houston’s Recovery in larger numbers and more innovative ways than ever before. Hurricane Harvey was one of the most devastating flood events to ever occur in the United States, dropping a record setting 33 trillion gallons of rainfall. Houston is the most populous city in Texas, and the fourth most-populated city in the United States.

He would like to see drones be able to locate people who may be stuck in their houses and deliver medicine and food to people who are stranded.

Given the vast territory of the flood, extraordinary measures are being tested in the recovery process. Drone technology is being used by government agencies and business for large scale surveillance and recovery efforts for the first time in history. For the first time, drones are a significant tool in assessment and restoration efforts. They are already having bold impact, and will continue to become more important as an emergency management tool in the future.

Once Banned Drones Contribute Critical Info

Before the hurricane struck the city of Houston, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a memo banning the flying of drones over Houston. Now that the storm is over, the ban has been lifted and companies are using drones in a variety of experimental ways. In fact, drones are being used all over the area to help assess damage, perform search assessments for rescue operations, and to examine the condition and possible damage of critical infrastructure.

Telecommunication, insurance, and even railway companies prepared fleets of drones to make assessments of the damage. With drones, they were able to evaluate destruction of cell towers, railroads, and homes much earlier, more quickly and more safely than if they were done by individual people. Many companies used drones to examine and inspect areas and equipment that were difficult to reach in the current flooding and chaos.

Drones were able to inspect bridges, power lines, roadways, and more. They were also used to inspect far flung remote communities where flooding prevented road access. Drones can also be used as hotspots for cell phones and internet connectivity.

Companies That Used Drones for Inspection

State Farm, which offers financial and insurance services in the US, used drones to gather photos after Harvey. In the past, insurance adjusters had to visit each site individually after the waters receded, a process which could take weeks or even months to complete after major disasters. With drone surveys, State Farm can quickly and accurately ascertain flood water damage and begin to make damage assessments even before the waters have receded.

Allstate Corporation is second largest personal insurer in the United States. They implemented a drone inspection program in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico to assess potential damage from floods as well as damage to roofs from high winds, tornadoes and hail.

The Allstate program uses drones to do fly over surveys in cities that will be affected by a weather event. They compile files of ‘before’ pictures that can be used for a baseline in damage assessments. They fly over the cities again once the storm is over to see the difference.

Justin Herndon, the spokesman for The Allstate Corporation, said that “[With Harvey] Contractors are going to become quite scarce because demand is so high, so the faster we can get our customers on a list, the faster they can start with that recovery process.”

BNSF Railway, one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America, has sent drones to monitor the conditions of its railroads after the winds and rain stopped. The company has 1,400 to 1,800 trains that travel every day across 28 states, they also have three in Canadian provinces. Their inspection checks train tracks for obstruction and damages.

The railroad company has also been part of an onogoing study with the FAA and other agencies that oversee drones and air safety. BNSF is one of a number of participants involved in Beyond Visual Line of Sight tests to determine safe drone usage over long distances. They are ideally suited as they have miles and miles of railroad track. Naturally, they are developing systems to inspect track and property with drones.

AT&T’s Dallas office moved crew out of the path of Hurricane Harvey, keeping them safe and ready to work after the storm hit. Immediately after the storm, they deployed 25 drones into the hard hit area to check wire lines and cell towers. This allowed them to quickly and efficiently pinpoint areas to be fixed and oftentimes, allowed crews to have a good idea of what needed to be fixed before they got there.

Post Harvey Drones

Weeks after Harvey blew through Houston, bringing record breaking floods and devastation, the city continues to assess and repair damage. Drones are critical in the efforts as they can more quickly and efficiently inspect bridges, roads, structures and homes.

In addition, drones can be used underwater, entering areas that are submerged and flooded to assess damage and even look for survivors who may be trapped in flooded buildings without access to get out safely. This is a new area of drone use, which is being used experimentally for the first time.

According to Ken Cook, the Senior Vice President of EagleView, he would like to see drones be able to locate people who may be stuck in their houses and deliver medicine and food to people who are stranded. Drones can be used for a variety of life saving missions, when manpower is scarce and conditions are hazardous.

Drones have come a long way. These tiny semi-autonomous vehicles can travel through air, over water, under water, and on land, to places which may be difficult or dangerous for humans to go. Houston is a test case to learn what drones can do and how they will fit into disaster and recovery scenarios in the future.

If drones continue to perform as they seem to be doing in Houston, they will have a bold impact on how we respond to and recover from storms in the coming years.

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