Harvey puts drones in the spotlight
- By Mark Rockwell
- Sep 12, 2017
Although consumer and media drones may have initially exacerbated some rescue problems following Hurricane Harvey, they've also helped speed recovery there, according to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.As the storm churned through Houston, the FAA warned private drone operators surveying the damage that they could face steep fines if their unauthorized aircraft got in the way of manned rescue aircraft.
But after Harvey hit Texas, the FAA began moving drone authorizations through its approval cycles quickly to help law enforcement and critical infrastructure providers assess the aftermath, Huerta said at the Sept. 6 InterDrone Conference in Las Vegas. "We recognized that we needed to move fast -- faster than we have ever moved before," he said.
"So we basically made the decision that anyone with a legitimate reason to fly an unmanned aircraft would be able to do so. In most cases, we were able to approve individual operations within minutes of receiving a request," he said.
After Hurricane Harvey exited the Texas Gulf Coast, Huerta said his agency issued more than 70 authorizations covering a broad range of recovery activities by local, state and federal agencies, including fire departments, railroad companies and emergency management officials who used the aircraft to look at buildings, bridges and roadways for critical damage. Cell tower companies also launched drones to assess towers and ground equipment, and insurance companies put them in the air to look at damage to neighborhoods, he said.
The use of quick, agile and easily launched drones, Huerta said, allowed safer and more efficient operations than if conventional manned aircraft had to operate out of closed or damaged airports with limited fuel supplies.
"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the hurricane response will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country," Huerta said.
This article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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