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    Hurricane Harvey Has and Will be a Test for Many – Including Drones

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    A primary use case for drones in the insurance industry is the safer, quicker and more accurate adjustment of claims.  With displaced insureds, flooded streets, and significant property damage that could remain inaccessible for extended periods, the ability for insurance companies to quickly and relatively conveniently fly their drones and adjust claims will be on full display.

    But, they must first do so in accordance with appropriate FAA authorization.  As of August 29, 2017 the FAA has noted the following:

    The FAA warns unauthorized drone operators that flying a drone could interfere with the U.S. National Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Texas Military Department’s rescue and recovery missions as evacuations escalate due to rising water. You could be subject to significant fines if you interfere with emergency response operations. Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is not in place. Allow first responders to save lives and property without interference.

    https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=88705

    Commercial drones used by insurance companies and entities responsible for infrastructure (e.g. power lines, cell towers, etc.) to conduct inspections are relatively small and weigh less than 55 lbs.  As such they are light enough to be susceptible to the high winds of the trailing storms.  Accordingly, they should not be used before the FAA lifts the restrictions or if the local winds have not subsided below manufacturer and FAA approved limitations.

    Once these restrictions are lifted though, there is a strong likelihood large quantities of drones will be flying and potentially in close proximity for the first time.  These drones will often be sending images back to remote claims handlers that may never see the insured in person.  With displaced landowners, drone operators tasked with getting agreement of the owner to fly over the subject property before being permitted to operate may find it difficult to timely locate the owner and secure that agreement. Will the operators abide by these operational standards?  Regardless, there will no doubt be a vast amount of data collected which insurers must be sure is handled properly.

    Insurers and their own drone operations will thus be tested, not just from a technical capability standpoint and ability to safely operate, but from a customer service viewpoint as well. Some questions regarding this later point to come to mind and curious insurers and reinsurers may find interest in the answers:

    • Will the processing time be faster?
    • Will the insureds appreciate the potentially less personal adjustment process from a remote claims examiner?
    • Will any distrust in the process creep in?
    • Does this create a potential higher incidence of contested claims?

    Events such as Hurricane Harvey challenge the insurance industry in many ways, and there are always lessons learned as a result.  As the first full-blown chance for many insurers to deploy drones in a natural disaster setting,  it will be interesting to see how drones rise to the occasion and what lessons are learned.

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