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A new technology that has exploded in recent years
The use of drones for insurance operations began to emerge in 2015, as the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) granted approval for some national insurance companies to begin using drones to respond to
catastrophes, collect data and conduct inspections. Since then, additional national and regional carriers have
also been granted FAA approval to incorporate drone technology in some capacity.
As drone innovations advance, more insurers are implementing what one industry report described as “gamechanging
drone technology” for investigating claims. Drone technology can make the inspection and claims
process faster, safer and more efficient than traditional inspections conducted by field adjusters.
Drone inspections and imagery have garnered attention in recent years when deployed to capture aerial
images of catastrophic damage in the wake of hurricanes and other natural disasters. But insurers are also
starting to use drones to investigate more day-to-day homeowners insurance claims, such as fires, downed
trees and hail damage.
According to the FAA, there are now more than 497,000 drones registered for commercial use in the United
States. Insurance companies are among the industries expanding their use of drones for conducting various
business operations, including risk assessment and other evaluations. Furthermore, the FAA forecasts that the
expansion of the commercial drone industry will continue to grow at a rapid pace over the next decade.

Benefits of drone inspections

Some national insurers have reported that drone technology has helped improve their claims cycle time (from
first notice of loss to settlement) by 30% to 40% and has increased adjuster efficiency by 50% to 60% in some
cases.
Drones are capable of capturing high-quality images and data that insurers can use to quickly and precisely
evaluate damage to a house or other structure. As drone capabilities continue to advance, it’s likely that
insurance companies will expand the use of the technology to even more areas of operation.
The main benefits of using drones for insurance inspections include the following:

  • High-quality images and data: Drones are equipped with high-tech digital cameras that are
    capable of capturing precise, high-resolution images, including images that are nearly impossible
    to capture by a person manually operating a camera. Perhaps even more valuable are the software
    and related technology that process and analyze the images and other data collected by drones.Technology such as 3D mapping, machine learning and telematics can provide insights to insurers.
  • Speed: Drones can complete some of the same tasks as a human inspector in much less time. For
    example, insurers report that drone roof inspections can be completed in one third the time of a
    physical inspection. This is particularly valuable in the case of a storm or other event that has
    affected a large number of policyholders. In addition, the images and data recorded by the drone
    can often be uploaded and sent to the insurance company claims adjuster in a matter of minutes,
    further speeding up the claims process.
  • Safe access: Traditionally, insurance field adjusters need to physically access areas such as steep or
    high roofs, which can be dangerous. A drone, however, can access a roof quickly and multiple
    times, capturing precise views and images without putting a human inspector at risk. Drones can
    also access other damaged areas quickly and more readily following a fire, flood or other disaster. Although the FAA has granted waivers of certain restrictions to allow insurers to conduct assessments related
    to natural disasters, in most cases, insurance companies need to comply with FAA drone flight regulations
    when using drones for any type of inspection or assessment.

This means you can’t always expect your insurer to deploy a drone, and it’s not always the best tool in any
event. Intense heat, dense tree cover, and ongoing winds or bad weather are some factors that could prevent
the use of a drone.

Drone technology and natural disasters

Drones have been successfully deployed to conduct damage assessments following natural disasters, such as
hurricanes and tornadoes, due to their ability to safely survey widespread damage.
In 2018, following the regional flooding and other catastrophic damage from Hurricane Florence and
Hurricane Michael in the southeastern United States, drones were instrumental to the insurance and
rebuilding efforts. Insurance companies were able to use aerial images, video and other data to begin
assessing damage and processing claims almost immediately.
Drone operators can work remotely and capture aerial imagery quickly and efficiently, without needing direct
physical access to the immediate location. Following some disasters, it can take days, weeks or even longer
before an area is considered safe enough for field adjusters to gain access and begin inspections. Drone
technology makes it possible to survey the area almost immediately, providing the insurance company and
other stakeholders with a first look to create an initial assessment of a catastrophe area. In many cases,
insurers have been able to respond to their policyholders almost immediately following a catastrophic loss.

Drones for individual home insurance claims

Several national and regional insurance companies are now incorporating drone technology into their
homeowners and property claims processes. They may use drones and aerial imaging technology to
supplement other types of inspections, including virtual, remote and on-site inspections by a field adjuster or
other professional.
Some national insurers have already developed their own in-house commercial drone inspection units,
training their own commercial drone operators to conduct inspections and other assessments. Others have
partnered with drone technology companies that provide all drone-related services and software platforms.
Still other companies use third-party commercial drone operators who are local to the area to perform
inspections.
In all cases, your policy will cover their use, and you will be notified that this will be the method employed.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to interfere with the flight or data capture of an insurer’s drone.
You may also wish to notify neighbors so they are not surprised or concerned about the activity.
Know that a drone operator will be nearby – as close as needed by regulation or operational requirements.
Verify with your insurer who this person is, when they will arrive, what they are expected to do and how long
it will take. You don’t want to see someone photographing your home and assume it’s your insurer only to
find out it was a person with nefarious intentions.

Talk to your insurer if you have questions or
concerns

If you have any questions about the decisions made based on drone footage, you should immediately ask
your claims manager. Also, feel free to ask your insurer or its contracted drone company about privacy
measures to ensure the security of drone-captured images.
Additionally, familiarize yourself with your insurance contract. If there is a dispute – or if the drone itself causes
further damage to your property – you will need to know how to proceed with a complaint. It may be
possible to iron out any disagreements without a lot of confusion or contention.