Drones to the Rescue? Search & Rescue and Damage Assessment are Showing the Value of Drone Technology

Share This

Hurricane Harvey has caused widespread devastation to the area around Houston Texas. The flooding that occurred has displaced thousands and destroyed billions of dollars worth of property. We’ve all been grateful to see the rush of volunteers and offers of help and support from around the nation to the people affected by this catastrophe. Some in the drone community have taken it upon themselves to help as well.

Drones For Good!

Drones have caught the attention of the nation news media for good this time. Using drones for search and rescue (SAR) and damage assessment in the aftermath of a storm is a positive step forward for the industry as this ABCNEWS piece shows:

Drone Coalitions Are Forming and Helping Out

Groups of commercial Part 107 pilots are banding together and offering their services to local, state and federal agencies in the form of search and rescue (SAR) operations and documenting and mapping the aftermath for insurance and the rebuilding and recovery efforts. One group of drone pilot volunteers is knee deep in the flood waters of Texas and have been aiding in damage assessment. They call themselves HumanitarianDrones and operate solely on donations. They’ve done some amazing work coordinating with state and local agencies, federal authorities and organizations like the Red Cross.

Helping Out In The Next Disaster

Now with Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida and Jose churning in the Atlantic many drone operators are asking: How can I help?

First, turn to the ultimate drone authority, the FAA. Here’s what they are saying:

The FAA warns unauthorized drone operators that they may be subject to significant fines if they interfere with emergency response operations. Many aircraft that are conducting life-saving missions and other critical response and recovery efforts are likely to be flying at low altitudes over areas affected by the storm. Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may unintentionally disrupt rescue operations and violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is not in place. Allow first responders to save lives and property without interference.


Government agencies with an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) and private sector Part 107 drone operators who want to fly to support of response and recovery operations are strongly encouraged to coordinate their activities with the local incident commander responsible for the area in which they want to operate.


If UAS operators need to fly in controlled airspace or a disaster TFR to support the response and recovery, operators must contact the FAA’s System Operations Support Center (SOSC) by emailing to determine the information they need to provide in order to secure authorization to access the airspace. Coordination with the SOSC may also include a requirement that the UAS operator obtain support from the appropriate incident commander. The FAA may require information about the operator, the UAS type, a PDF copy of a current FAA COA, the pilot’s Part 107 certificate number, details about the proposed flight (date, time, location, altitude, direction and distance to the nearest airport, and latitude/longitude), nature of the event (fire, law enforcement, local/national disaster, missing person) and the pilot’s qualification information.

Secondly, use common sense. Do  you have a plan? Are in in contact with authorities on the ground? Have you done this before? Can you safely support your operations without draining resources (food, water and shelter) from others that need it more than you? If the answer to any of these is ‘No’ then you should not be packing your drone up and heading to the affected area. DO NOT SELF DEPLOY without contacting authorities on the ground.

Thirdly, allow the local drone community to help first. There will be many local drone operators in the affected areas that are willing and able to help. Let them help in the recovery first before you decide to drive hundreds of miles alone. Let the local drone pilots help with their community in the time of need. If they need help, they’ll ask.

Finally, if you absolutely feel the need to help, be smart. Are drones what they need at the moment if there are already hundreds in the area already? Maybe you can help out in other ways like donating water, money or providing other services. Remember this isn’t about promoting your business, it’s about helping fellow human beings in a time of need. If it’s apparent that your drone skills are becoming necessary get in contact with federal agencies first. See if your services are needed before you jump in your car.