For years, drones have been used to support recovery efforts in the aftermath of floods and other disasters, and the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is proving to be no different, and we suspect that the same will be true following the wake of Hurricane Irma, which is bearing down on the Southeast, but not without some restrictions. Drones can go on missions that would be too dangerous or costly for humans to attempt, including inspecting flooded buildings, the condition of critical infrastructure, and to search for missing persons. According to USA Today, the FAA authorized 43 drone operators post Harvey, ranging from news organizations to insurance companies. In addition to insurance companies and news organizations, the FAA has authorized drone use for eight railroad companies and five oil energy companies to assess the damage to their various facilities and properties.
Despite issuing authorizations to drone operators, the FAA has also set up a no fly zone around the Houston area intended to keep private drone users from interfering with rescue helicopters that have been conducting search and rescue operations since the storm struck. This has been a problem in the past as firefighting aircraft in California were forced to land to avoid colliding with drones flying over wildfires.
The FAA’s no fly zone lasted through September 5th for Houston, but remains in place within 30 miles of Rosenberg, Texas through September 30, 2017. The director of domestic operations for the National Guard, Air Force Maj. Gen. James Witham, asks the public to limit their use of drones, by saying, “As much as possible, if we could keep civilian drones out of the crowded skies that are already crowded with people doing response and recovery efforts, that would certainly be helpful because those present a hazard for our crews operating those helicopters in the region.” The president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents almost 200,000 hobbyists, agrees, saying “The ongoing emergency response efforts are of the utmost importance. We urge everyone to be careful and avoid interference with any of these crucial operations.”