Drones & Disasters: Not Just for Pretty Pictures
February 12, 2018
Last week we started our first of new weekly blog posts focusing on environment, technology, and that way it could impact you and your family. This week we discuss drones and the unique way they are helping people and their homes in times of crisis, including natural disasters.
Drones are relatively new technology for the average person – the United States first used a drone to fly over Afghanistan in 2000, but it was just in 2014 that Canada started a campaign for safety awareness for personal (or, recreational) drones. Now we are all more or less familiar with the fact that hobbyists (everyone from teenagers to retirees) use drones to take spectacular photos from the sky: Everything from homes to cottages to snow falls (although it should be noted that as of 2017, new regulations stipulate that drones are only permitted to fly 90 m in Canada).
But aside from war and recreation, drones are making an interesting mark in the disaster arena as well.
Just last year, the University of B.C. used drones to investigate damage from the wildfire season and see just how much havoc it wreaked on B.C.’s forests. This gave researchers a 3D model of the forest, high-res enough to see exactly how each individual tree was affected by the fires. Before the use of drones, satellite and aerial imagery were used to inspect forests – compared to drones, an extremely low-resolution method.
Last year was the worst wildfire season on record, not only affecting a huge swath of B.C.’s forests, but forcing 50,000 people out of their homes.
So, the question becomes: How can drones not only help the land, but also the people affected by disasters?
In Houston after Hurricane Harvey last year, professional drone pilots did just that: The FAA in the U.S., who typically restricts airspace in areas of catastrophe, granted 43 drone authorizations to assist with recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Texas. Companies with these permits were able to inspect power lines, roads, bridges, and water treatment plants to identify flooding and other problems. This unique vantage point also helped determined if an area was safe to venture into.
Why not use helicopters? According to Wired, drones are cheaper, can fly lower, and pose no risk to pilots or passengers’ lives. This gives them huge advantages over manned aircraft.
Drones are also incredibly useful for the insurance industry in times of disaster – quick and portable with great cameras that send the information over to insurance companies in real-time, so they can immediately start on their work. This makes sense – when you’ve got to look over property that is inaccessible, instead of waiting for flood waters or damage to clear, you can fly a drone over to be your eyes and ears.
Probably the most vital importance of drones in the early stages of disasters is spotting people in need of rescue. According to NBC News, drones have certain advantages over traditional search-and-rescue efforts, including speed. In addition, drones can actually deliver lifesaving life jackets until rescuers are able to assist those in need of help.
Drones are paving the way for disaster recovery efforts, and relatively quickly, too. They’re also surging ahead in popularity for hobbyists and recreational use. But a word of caution: Regulations in some sectors may not be keeping up. Just this week, Canadian Underwriter wrote about the fact that many home insurance policies do not cover consumers from property damage or personal injury caused by drones. You’ve been warned: Careful flying!