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CATs and Drones: The Case for Drones in Disaster Recovery

July 24, 2020 | By: Darren Keuhl

On September 1st, 2019, the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian – the strongest in the history of the Bahamas – made landfall over the northwest part of the country. The storm damaged infrastructure and caused massive flooding on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. Forty-three people were killed and over 76,000 people were ultimately affected by the storm.    

Immediately following the storm, GlobalMedic deployed a Rapid Response Team, including the RescUAV Team to provide on-ground assistance. A recognized expert drone pilot and instructor, Origin and Cause’s Darren Keuhl was contacted by GlobalMedic: “They were short qualified pilots who could go down to the Bahamas. They knew about me through some training packages I had put together for them and asked if I could get on a plane.”   

As a volunteer in the Bahamas for the next two weeks, Darren took aerial photographs and mapped Greater Abaco Island along with Team Lead, Dan Cyr and retired Toronto district fire chief, Rob McNamara. The maps were given to the local government to be used in the rebuilding effort.   

“We were targeting all the populated areas. Mainly Marsh Harbour because it was the most devastated, but the United Nations World Food Programme also had a list of some specific sites and towns that they wanted mapped. With the drone, we were able to get an up-close look at the area – as compared to a satellite image. This helped officials know where infrastructure sustained the most damage and where they needed to send assets.” 

The RescUAV Team that Darren was a member of mapped over 4,500 hectares and took 44,000 pictures in Grand Bahama and over 1,000 hectares and 8,900 images in Abaco which were shared with local officials.  

“It was gratifying to be able to take a skill set I learned in my profession and use it to do something on that scale. It also made me realize what can be done with drones, on a global level, for catastrophe teams.” 

Advantages of Using Drones

A Better View

If you need an aerial survey of a large area after a catastrophe, helicopters and aircraft are going to be extremely expensive. But you can put a drone team down with their equipment, get the proper permission to fly and start mapping and doing structural inspections almost immediately. Drones can be flown to a maximum altitude of 400 ft above the ground for a complete site evaluation.  

More Information

Clear documentation helps settle claims quickly and fairly. Employing Drone Deployment allows us to efficiently document damage to help adjusters and contractors. The software provides precise measurements and additional data to assist with scoping and repair or rebuild estimates, including volume metrics, area and slope, all calculated with extreme accuracy. Once a flight is complete, all photos and videos can be reviewed onsite to make sure all the necessary information has been captured. 

We can fly a systematic grid of a site to later render and recreate the scene in two-dimensional and three-dimensional modelling, essentially preserving the scene in a time capsule. It’s imperative to capture a scene as it is at the time of the loss because once a site is turned over, the evidence is gone.  The rendered models can be viewed at any time, whether it’s three months or three years later. This kind of documentation is especially crucial for claims that may end up in litigation.  

Exclusive Access

Appraising property claims, even under “normal” circumstances can be hazardous. In a CAT scenario, whether it’s a wildfire, flood, ice storm or hurricane, damage to structures can be so extreme as to render them altogether unsafe for adjusters, contractors and engineers to enter. Drones can fly very close to structures and rooflines, as well as enter heavily damaged and compromised buildings. And with the guidance of a structural engineer, they can gather evidence, examine damage and aid in the evaluation of the rebuild or repair, as well as assist adjusters in verifying coverage for a claim. 

Greater Efficiency

Often in the case of natural disasters, adjusters will be overwhelmed with claims, and resources are stretched to the limit. Finding efficiencies in time management is essential. A typical building survey with a drone can be done in a fraction of the time it would take using terrestrial photography, with the added advantage of live streaming as they fly. They also provide greater aerial perspective and better situational awareness. That means more structures can be examined per day, the collection and flow of information are made more efficient, and resources can be deployed to the areas where they are most urgently needed. 


The Right Tool for the Right Job

Drones are just another tool in an adjuster’s toolbox. They aren’t going to render ladders obsolete and they certainly can’t replicate the knowledge and experience that an adjuster, contractor or engineer brings to a scene, but, in the right scenario and the right hands, they do possess advantages that can make things easier, safer and more efficient for everyone involved. 

Darren Keuhl 

Darren is a Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems Operator specializing in pre-loss and post-loss site inspections, field investigations and aerial scene mapping using Pix4D and Drone Deploy software. He is also a Level 3 Traffic Collision Investigator and a Level 4 Collision Reconstructionist with over 30 years of policing experience.