Drones are beginning to play an integral role in the Recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey. For drone users, Hurricane Harvey could be the event that propelled unmanned aircraft to becoming an integral part of government and corporate disaster-recovery efforts.
Direct Recovery Operations
In the first six days after the storm hit, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued more than 40 separate authorizations for emergency drone activities above flood-ravaged Houston and surrounding areas. They ranged from inspecting roadways to checking railroad tracks to assessing the condition of water plants, oil refineries and power lines.
A source inside the FAA said that many applications were processed within hours. With everyone familiar with the FAA and government bureaucracy this is an unusually welcome fast turnaround for federal safety regulators accustomed to days or weeks of analysis for such decisions.
That total climbed above 70 last Friday and topped 100 by Sunday, including some flights prohibited under routine circumstances, according to people familiar with the details. Industry officials said all of the operations—except for a handful flown by media outlets—were conducted in conjunction with, or on behalf of, local, state or federal agencies.
The scope and pace of approvals has shown that the local authorities recognise that Drones can be used as an essential tools to help search-and-recovery teams during natural emergencies.
“They’re being used in a lot of different ways we’ve been talking about for a long time,” said Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the leading trade group.
Before the devastation throughout southern Texas, lawmakers and trade groups representing drone manufacturers specifically urged the FAA to adopt policies providing swift regulatory exemptions in the event of emergency applications and it looked like it worked.
Not just for Recovery
Since the FAA began clearing the way for unmanned aircraft around Houston, people familiar with the details said at least one company has received the green light to survey coastal damage using drones operating beyond the sight of ground-based pilots. Such flying techniques are strictly banned under normal rules governing commercial operations.
In recent days in order to reduce delays and bureaucratic processes, the FAA has issued some single, blanket authorizations to fly different types of drones for various missions across the same designated airspace.
From the outset, several large property insurers enlisted drones in trying to quickly estimate damage and anticipate claims. Dozens of drones making thousands of weekly flights are expected to be part of the strategy.
Not all free flight
However, Despite FAA flexibility, drone industry groups have called for further easing of rules. A trade association called the Small UAV Coalition on Friday said some of its members already are helping “ensure continuous communication capabilities for first responders and the public.” But unmanned aircraft also have “immense potential” to assist help with “delivering food, water and medical supplies,” the group said.
To protect the multitude of government helicopters and manned aircraft that initially responded as Hurricane Harvey hit large chunks of the state, the FAA slapped a temporary but extensive no-fly zone over Houston. This is understandable due to increasing fears of mid-air collisions. All drone operations were prohibited without specific FAA approval, and the FAA explicitly warned that “flying an unauthorized drone could interfere” with official rescue and recovery efforts.
Despite being almost a week ago drone flights to assist the recovery still require advance FAA approvals over much of Houston. That is because as before, large swaths of airspace are reserved for traffic in and out of the region’s two primary commercial airports.
All in all its good to hear that Drones are being put to good use both geographically and in recovery efforts. Whatever ones feelings on Drones, it is undeniable that the portability of Drones makes them unparalleled in their air-born applications.