Leveraging Drones in the Wake of Hurricane Irma

Drones help insurance inspectors improve safety, gather better data, and jumpstart efforts to rebuild an island hard-hit by disaster

300

buildings mapped in 10 days

$1.96B

euros in insurance claims

95%

buildings damaged

When it comes time to assess the damage after a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma, it’s hard to know where to start. On the island of St. Martin—which took a good brunt of the storm—95% of all buildings were damaged. Now claims adjusters must inspect each structure and estimate the cost of repairs before insurance companies can begin to help the island’s residents get back on their feet.

From the ground, this would take months. By using drone maps to assess the structural damage caused by the hurricane, insurance inspectors shortened that process to days — all while improving safety, data collection, and turnaround time for the claims process.

Over a period of just 10 days, Emilien Rose and his team at Dronotec mapped 300 buildings in St. Martin, leveraging DroneDeploy's powerful cloud processing engine to map 30 buildings per day and jumpstart efforts to rebuild an island hard-hit by the disaster.

After a Natural Disaster, Remote Inspections Make Processing Insurance Claims Faster and Safer

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, GFA Generali, a major insurance company that insures many buildings on St. Martin, approached Dronotec for help. The company needed a way to value the damage as fast as possible, but they faced several challenges.

Dronotec specializes in drone inspections for insurance companies.

Thousands of damaged buildings and lack of electricity and telecommunications made it difficult to coordinate the claims process between the island and the company’s headquarters in France.

Safety was another factor. With collapsing roofs, crumbling facades, and piles of rubble, many buildings on the island were just too dangerous to inspect on foot. But it is critical that loss adjusters gather information about damaged properties before they are torn down and the rubble is removed. The volume of the rubble itself tells an adjuster a lot about the cost of repairing a building.

With all this in mind, Emilien and a team of five drone pilots headed to the island with four DJI Phantom 4 Pro drones and two Mavic Pros.

95% of the buildings on the island were damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Increasing Efficiency by Processing Thousands of Drone Maps in the Cloud

For this project, DroneDeploy was the clear choice for drone mapping software because of the platform’s fast cloud processing capabilities. Being out in the field with limited hardware, processing the maps locally wasn’t feasible; it would have taken up to 10 hours to process a single map on one of the team’s laptops.

With DroneDeploy, they processed an entire day’s worth of maps simultaneously and got the results in less than 24 hours. Then the loss adjusters back in France got access to the critical data almost immediately via DroneDeploy’s user-friendly dashboard.

“If there is no good way to communicate, if there is no one onsite and the insurer is back in France, they don’t have the information they need,” says Emilien of the value added by drone mapping. “We are providing that information to help assess faster and from a distance.”

Insurance adjusters need something accessible, easy to use and easy to understand. They need to go fast. DroneDeploy provides them a quick response to their needs.

Emilien Rose picture Emilien Rose, Dronotec

Better Drone Data Improves Collaboration and Minimizes Insurance Risk

As Emilien puts it, “When insurance adjusters receive three hundred missions at the same time, it’s difficult to declutter the disaster.” Not only must adjusters track and monitor each damaged site, but they must communicate that information to other stakeholders, such as property owners and contractors.

Drone maps create a common set of data and a clear record of the damage, helping everyone involved stay organized and on the same page throughout the process. DroneDeploy’s annotations feature allows insurance companies to make notes on maps and easily share information with those stakeholders.

Orthomosaic map of damaged properties on St. Martin with annotations.

Because each map is geotagged, with a clear record of the exact time, date, and location, an insurer is that much more confident that he is paying for his own claim and not the claim of someone else.

The maps Emilien created gave adjusters a far better set of data than they would have gathered through ground inspection. This is crucial because insurance companies must reserve a certain pool of money during the initial claim, to be paid out once a property is rebuilt.

DroneDeploy’s built-in measurement tool allows adjusters to estimate the volume of masonry rubble and contractors to determine the amount of material needed to repair a damaged roof, all from a safe distance. In cases where a structure is completely wiped away by the hurricane, adjusters can compare pre-storm satellite imagery with post-storm drone maps to verify the existence and location of the old structure.

The more high-quality data adjusters can gather, the less they run the risk of underestimating repair costs. And with over 1.96 billion euros worth of claims on the French side of St. Martin alone, correctly estimating costs becomes all that much more important.

GFA International is just beginning to use drone maps to aid in the insurance adjustment process; the St. Martin project is one of their largest to date. But this experience made one thing clear: drones are the future of insurance inspection.

This should save time for our network of experts and allow us to show the damage to people not on site. We think that in the future the use of the drones will become systematic.

 Jean-Louis Morant, Chief Operating Officer, GFA International

As for the Dronotec team? They’ve already done so much, but their work is hardly over. When we spoke to Emilien, he had just finished on St. Martin and was headed to the island of St. Barts to map another several hundred properties.

Emilien Rose founded Dronotec in 2014 following a ten-year career as an insurance adjuster in France and Australia. He saw drones as a powerful tool capable of solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges. 
Today, his company uses drones to help insurance companies and loss adjusters around the world save money, reduce risk, and get residents back into their buildings and on with their lives.

Want to Learn More?

Dronotec has a long history of using drones to improve the insurance industry. Read how they saved an insurance company nearly €10 million after a large fire.


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