It is past time for the government to realize and act on the benefits and opportunities that UAV technology can deliver. The technology is a major economic driver of jobs and business opportunities. And, as Hurricane Harvey amply brought into sharp relief, drones are life savers.
This is all known by people working in the industry. The ability of drones to assist in search and rescue efforts is well understood. Mike Winn, CEO of DroneDeploy, a data analytics firm, ticked off three quick ways in which drones can be of use in hurricane disaster recovery effort:
Winn summed up this knowledge:
- Drones can be 6 times quicker than rescuers in locating people — while a 5-person rescue team needs 2 hours to find a victim, a drone can find that same victim in 20 minutes. They also keep rescuers safe by relaying live images of the scene, ensuring rescue operations can be planned with minimal risk.
- Drones can safely deliver supplies like rescue ropes and life jackets in perilous situations (like raging floodwaters) which are too dangerous for rescuers to attempt.
- Natural disasters leave victims with extreme property damage. Commercial drones, which can aerially survey damage, can help insurance adjusters scope out the scene when roads are dangerous or impassable.
Firms large and small (including but not limited to Measure, Airbus Aerial, Insitu, DJI, PropellerHeads) are among the drone companies providing equipment and services, is one of the drone firms that has been assisting. DroneLife has published several posts on drone use in recovery effort:
- Airbus Aerial Uses Drones and Satellites to Help Harvey Survivors
- Drone Service Firm Measure Assists Verizon with Harvey Post Recovery Effort
- Drone Industry Aids Red Cross in Hurricane Harvey Response
And a slew of stories has come out over the weekend:
- Amid warnings, drones respond to Hurricane Harvey aftermath – AOPA
- Could Samaritan Drone Aircraft Help Hurricane Harvey Rescuers? – Scientific American
- We Need to Be Using Drones to Rescue Harvey Victims – Fortune
- Drones Play Increasing Role in Harvey Recovery Efforts – Wall Street Journal
That drones help rather than hinder is known. So, it would be encouraging to see government agencies and our elected representatives act to develop clear policies and regulations that abet relief efforts and help this industry advance.
The WSJ writes: “The House is considering a 2018 FAA reauthorization bill that, among other things, calls for putting in place consensus safety standards for drone designs developed by industry representatives. The legislation also calls for further study of local and state governmental authorities to oversee drone operations under certain scenarios.”(emphasis ours). No – we do not need further study. This recent natural disaster has delivered all the study we need. We need commitment, vision, and strategy – not study.
Here is another example of what we do not need. Just last Friday Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Representative Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Congressman, wrote a piece, titled We must act to protect manned aircraft from irresponsible drone operators published in The Hill. They have re-introduced the Drone & Operator Safety Act in the Senate and House of Representatives. They argue that the act “would, for the first time, make it a criminal offense to knowingly or recklessly fly a drone in a way that interferes with, or disrupts the operation of, a manned aircraft.”
Call us crazy, but you have to ask if the inmates are running the asylum when you live in a world where Congress will not impose national regulations on the use of military assault weapons which cost lives (Newtown, Aurora, etc.) and yet rush to impose regulations on technology that has clearly demonstrated the ability to save lives.
The regulations needed are those that will expand the benefits the technology can deliver (e.g. BVLOS, etc.).
Hurricane Irma is picking up steam and may or may not come ashore. But if not Irma, then it will be something else. Droughts, wild fires, hurricanes, severe snow storms are all becoming more fierce and more frequent. Drone technology can help, and the companies and executives that manage them are ready, willing, and able to assist. Government needs to step up, engage, and plan. Let’s hope we can learn from the lessons Hurricane Harvey is teaching us.