In the past few years, the U.S. has seen devastating results from hurricanes. Just last year, Florida, the state that has a population that grows by almost 1,000 people every day, was hit by Hurricane Harvey and saw extreme flooding and damages that are still being dealt with today. And now, Hurricane Florence has wreaked havoc on the Carolinas and is moving throughout Virginia. Fortunately, drone technology will make disaster relief a bit easier for these states.
As the forecasts for the hurricane change, there is a small army of drone pilots staged in areas where they can be most useful in helping with disaster response. Drones are going to play a key role in identifying and even helping to fix damages caused by the hurricane. And with machinery shipments increasing over the years, totaling $407.4 billion in 2012 alone, recovery teams have access to more drones and drone equipment than ever before.
Florence has already caused immense flooding, coastal erosion, wind, and torrential downpours. And to keep up with the damage the storm is causing, there are at least 53 drone teams with 100 operators, with recovery efforts being managed by the Edison Electric Institute, based in Washington.
There are also numerous other companies and organizations offering their drones for disaster recovery aid — Duke Energy Corp., Southern Co., and the New York Power Authority. Insurance companies like Travelers Cos. and United States Automobile Association already reported that they plan on using drone technology in order to collect evidence for damage claims once the storm has passed.
Drone technology can prove to be extremely useful in situations where it’s crucial to quickly find issues in dangerous areas, like particularly heavily flooded areas. The drones used in recovery efforts have special equipment like infrared and high-zoom sensors. These additional pieces of equipment can help locate and inspect things like downed power lines that may be too dangerous for humans to get to.
“When we’re predeployed, we have our rations—it’s an ongoing joke of beef jerky and pretzels,” said Hadley Doyle-González, who runs SMG Drones, in Palm Beach, Florida. “We have a ridiculous amount of batteries. We need to be able to fly for 24 hours with no power.”
And this isn’t the first time drones have been used in recovery efforts. Over the past few years, drones have been used more and more for commercial purposes, with Gartner reporting 110,000 drones being sold in 2016 for commercial use. Last year when Hurricane Harvey hit, drones were used to build a backup substation and also aided in checking generators at hospitals as well as other tasks.
Of course, there are other safety protocols in place, like NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, which requires workplaces and occupied buildings provide updated evacuation plan information, there are some recovery tasks that humans can’t do quickly or safely after disasters like hurricanes.
The CEO of PrecisionHawk, a North Carolina-based drone company, Michael Chasen explained, “As people, companies, cities and states come together to support safety as best possible as Hurricane Florence bears down, drones and pilots are poised to play a critical role in the triage of affected eastern states, post-Florence.”
While drones won’t necessarily be used in emergency rescue efforts after the hurricane dwindles down, but they will be utilized greatly during recovery efforts. The equipment drones are hooked up to can capture necessary data and images that can help analyze property damage and other areas damaged by the storm. And once the storm has calmed, drone companies will then work with local authorities to use the gathered information to make plans for repairs and other necessary actions.
Recovery efforts after storms like Florence generally take time, sometimes years to fully repair the damages. But with technology like drones, people have hope that they’ll be able to assess and repair damage quicker than ever before.