Drones are playing a new role in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew
In some towns along the United States’ Carolina coast, floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew remain too deep for cars to pass. And many of the buildings hit by the storm are too damaged to safely inspect.
So crews tasked with helping residents recover are turning to drones.
Verizon, the telecom company, used an unmanned aircraft — operated by a partner company — over parts of flooded North Carolina this week to check cellular site locations for connectivity and damage.
In a blog post, the company said the first drone inspection it conducted after Hurricane Matthew was over Elm City, N.C. and the Tar River Reservoir, an area still too submerged for ground vehicles. Verizon determined the state of its equipment and sent a boat with technicians, who restored service within hours.
The insurance company Allstate also flew a drone last week to assess damage to property in Savannah, Ga. after Hurricane Matthew barreled through the city, wiping out boardwalks, piers and rooftops along the coast.
Instead of having a person inspect the roof damage from a tree that fell on a house, Allstate took bird’s-eye view photos with a drone, which can be both faster and safer than having a person climb a compromised structure, the Savannah Morning News reported.
Another insurance company, Travelers, has a full team of trained drone pilots surveying the damage in South Carolina, Georgia and other states hit by the storm.
While most drone activity is happening in the aftermath of Matthew, scientists from NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also flew drones into and around the storm to collect meteorological data.
One of the unmanned aircraft NASA flew to collect data in the storm, the Global Hawk, is capable of flying for 30 hours at altitudes up to 60,000 feet, which is well above the FAA’s 400 feet height limit for hobby and commercial unmanned aircraft.
After one drone operator tweeted footage of North Carolina homes underwater, someone responded to say that his brother and a dog were trapped in one of the houses in the video. The pilot than used his drone to direct an emergency crew in a boat to the house.