This piece was originally published in the November 2017 issue of electroindustry.
Steve Griffith, PMP, Industry Director, NEMA
In the aftermath of 2017’s major hurricanes, the commercial drone industry is quickly becoming a major player in disaster relief efforts. Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Federal Aviation Administration issued permits to commercial drone operators to assist in a number of different functions that expedited recovery.
Earlier this year, CenterPoint Energy, the electric utility serving Houston, Texas, launched a drone program to survey damage from severe weather. The drones proved instrumental in the company’s restoration efforts after Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 52 inches of rain in some sections of Southeast Texas. Flooded roads made it difficult for crews to assess damage, which in turn hindered response and restoration. Fifteen drones were used to capture high-resolution imagery in real time to help crews assess damage and deploy the right resources in the right places to restore power.
In advance of the hurricane season, Florida Power & Light (FPL), the electric utility serving Southern Florida, hosted a training program that included the use of unmanned aircraft systems. Employees were trained for what would be a massive logistical response to a major hurricane, involving the deployment of thousands of workers and the use of equipment and advanced technology (including drones) to rapidly survey damage. Drones played a significant role in FPL’s efforts to restore electricity for its 4.4 million customers after Hurricane Irma. The company had 49 drone teams surveying parts of the state that were not accessible by vehicles.