Use of drones to assess storm damage on rise

As Hurricane Irma approached, barrier island residents took photographs of property and valuables in case they came home to a worst-case scenario. It only makes sense for local government to do the same with taxpayer-owned assets.

While the shift in the storm’s path spared the city buildings and parks any significant damage or beach erosion, the process of documenting the conditions before the storm was important and will likely be repeated for future storm events, said Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker.

Freelance drone filmmaker Dylan Hansen, founding member of the Satellite Beach Sustainability Board in 2015, spent a couple days filming city properties before and after Hurricane Irma.

“I like having a drone contractor because we can just call him when we need him to do things like getting footage of all our roofs before the storm. The fire department is also looking at using drones to help find out where a fire started,’’ she said.

The city does not have its own personnel involved with drone photography because of increasing rules and training requirements by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Barker said.

“If we (the city) had them, there would be privacy issues and we would have to have all that training and keep current on the rules. It’s easier just to find a qualified drone operator and contract them,’’ she said.

Hansen said he only recently completed the required FAA training and certification and started working for the city helping them create drone and conventional videos. He had spent years providing his time and passion on many sustainability topics without charge.

The capability of drones has improved over the years in terms of operating in bad weather and near electric power lines with distracting electromagnetic fields (EMF), and as a result now enjoy a growing number of uses for cities.

“Using drones to survey is definitely something that is picking up. Drone companies are now creating specific drones for surveying, like being resilient to EMF’s, rain, etc. As many industries are finding it to be a time and money saver, you will continue to hear more about drone application when surveying bridges, power lines, buildings and more,’’ Hansen said.

There may not have been vast damage in Satellite Beach to film with a drone resulting from the brush with Hurricane Irma – like the damage to homes and the newly created inlet he filmed by drone in the St. Augustine area following Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – but that lack of severity was a blessing for those residents who endured Hurricane Irma, he said.

“I am grateful we didn’t get hit as bad as it could have been. I am sure you have seen many images (in other areas of the state) of buildings flooded, roofs gone, or worse the building completely leveled. We definitely got lucky,’’ he said.

Leave a Comment