Canadian Underwriter

Expediting authorizations for drone use after disasters would improve risk assessment and response: study

April 28, 2015   by Angela Stelmakowich, Editor

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NEW ORLEANS, La. – A new study detailing how drones can help first responders and improve relief efforts after a disaster recommends the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expedite emergency flight authorizations for the private sector, a move that would greatly reduce insurer response times and greatly enhance risk assessment, mitigation and claims response.

Lockheed Martin Indago Group 1 drone

Use of drones would make it possible for insurance companies to begin collecting important information much more quickly, Dan Riordan, CEO of Global Corporate in North America for Zurich, said Monday during a press conference at the RIMS 2015 Annual Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans.

“It’s important to us to learn as much as we can about new and emerging technologies,” Riordan told assembled reporters. “We believe that drone technology can help deliver the most relevant data, in particular for our claims and our risk engineering operations as they respond to natural disasters and work to support our customers,” he emphasized.

Riordan made his comments in connection with the new study by Measure, in co-ordination with the American Red Cross, Drones for Disaster Response and Relief Operations. Co-sponsored by Zurich, Drones for Disaster Response and Relief Operations offers humanitarian, safety and economic reasons to use drones for emergency response and disaster relief.

“Aerial drones are one of the most promising and powerful new technologies to improve disaster response and relief operations. Drones naturally complement traditional manned relief operations by helping to ensure that operations can be conducted safer, faster and more efficiently,” the study notes.

“When a disaster occurs, drones may be used to provide relief workers with better situational awareness, locate survivors amidst the rubble, perform structural analysis of damaged infrastructure, deliver needed supplies and equipment, evacuate casualties and help extinguish fires — among many other potential applications,” the study adds.

As such, the study calls for the FAA to develop an emergency certificate of authorization (COA) process for private sector and non-profit organizations that would allow for the on-demand operation of drones post-disaster and issue blanket approval for locations in which these entities can fly.

Expedited emergency flight authorizations “would better support people, businesses and communities to more quickly begin their recovery process post disaster,” notes a statement from Zurich.

“Current FAA policy does not enable the private sector to use drones for disaster recovery purposes at the most critical times for the most vital and time-sensitive purposes,” Riordan said during the press conference. “The sensitivity of getting the drones in there early for early evaluation is critical. This change would make it possible, particularly to enable private insurers to come in within 24 hours with drone technology,” he said.

“Considering the immediate benefits for civilians, communities and first responders, integrating drones into emergency and disaster response protocols should be a top priority for the FAA and other federal, state and local entities,” the report states. “The potential benefits that can come from collecting aerial data from drones in relief efforts warrant swift action on the part of regulators to create a sensible framework of rules that allow both the public and private sectors to get airborne,” it adds.

“From the report, it’s very clear that there are benefits to the insurance industry. First of all is the idea of getting air imagery quicker, and the possibility of real-time acquisition of air imagery and how that can support insurance companies to assess damage and, obviously, rapid employment of personnel,” Brandon DeClet, CEO and co-founder of Measure, told reporters.

“This improved response time will lower the long-term costs of recovery and help to rebuild communities faster,” he adds in the statement from Zurich.

Broad adoption of drone technology will be limited unless public and private organizations find a way to avoid the capital expense associated with owning and operating their own drone fleets, the study said

Riordan pointed out that “in terms of the response, we don’t have a set number of what the impact will be.” However, he told reporters, “research has found that reducing the timeline of the early phases of recovery can expedite the entire recovery process.” If response is on the ground in 24 hours or 48 hours, “it can actually take months or even years off of the recovery process,” he said.

“Armed with the proper authorization to obtain vital information – related to the most impacted areas in the first 48 hours following a catastrophe – can mean more accurate response efforts and quicker claims turnaround,” Zurich reports.

“We may not be able to get the claims professional in there 24 hours later, but (we will have) the data to be able to assess and help us move much more quickly on the claims process, to be able to identify what is necessary, and how can we get the right resources to support,” Riordan said.

“From an insurance perspective, if you understand better where the damage has occurred, it’s much easier then to allocate resources appropriately,” DeClet said.

“One of the key findings of the study was we got a great opportunity to start collecting air imagery now, pre-disaster,” he pointed out. This informs companies “as to where the threats really are in terms of disaster. So having that information on hand early on, I think helps decision-makers, ultimately, decide where to deploy resources quicker.”

Zurich notes a major finding of the study is that “broad adoption of drone technology will be limited unless public and private organizations find a way to avoid the capital expense associated with owning and operating their own drone fleets.” Among the other study recommendations for implementing drones for disaster recovery are as follows:

• permit small and microUAS operations in controlled airspace within disaster areas;

• permit commercial small and microUAS operations over populated areas during declared emergencies;

• encourage data sharing among governments, the private sector and commercial drone operators to maximize response strategy, speed and efficiency; and

• in the event of a disaster, have in place a defined process for scaling up FAA staff resources to process requests to fly so that they can be handled quickly.

Beyond receiving authority, though, is the need to choose the right solution. Selecting a solution “goes much beyond simply selecting a drone,” DeClet said.

“The most important thing about the technology is the data that comes from it. Understanding the types of data that you receive will, ultimately, drive your selection of drone and also drive your selection of sensor and data analytics packa
ge,” he explained.

Zurich reports that both its claims and risk engineering teams are working to determine the best ways to leverage the data available from drones, whether through contracted services, company-owned drones, or leased drone fleets. Research and testing of microdrone platforms has already been conducted in Spain and Canada, the insurer adds.

The RIMS 2015 Annual Conference & Exhibition is being held Apr. 26-29 in New Orleans.

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