USAA Prepares to Send Drones to Texas Coast After Hurricane Harvey

Drones Helping Hurricane ResponseAs Hurricane Harvey pounds the coast of Texas, insurance companies are gearing up customer service, deploying agents and drones to the areas likely to suffer the most damage.  Bloomberg reported that over 230,000 homes are at risk from the impact of this tropical storm and the cost of reconstruction has been estimated to be almost $40 billion. Harvey has already left thousands without power and there are currently reports of significant damage in Rockport, Texas, where the storm hit land Friday night.

San Antonio-based insurance giant, USAA is mobilizing people and technology to appraise the damage to policyholders. It is uncertain how many policyholders reside in the affected Texas area, but the company serves over 11.9 million customers worldwide with financial products such as banking, insurance, and investments. USAA has forwarded messages to its customers in Texas with guidance on preparing for the storm and how to file claims afterward.

A statement made by Rebekah Nelson spokesperson of USAA stated that as well as mobilizing loss adjusters, the company is also utilizing a drone-as-a-service partnership that will help get adjusters out to homes faster. She stated that they have a fleet of drones waiting to be deployed to assist in assessing the extent of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction.

Although, USAA declined naming its drone partner, the strategic innovation director of the company, Kristina Tomasetti, mentioned earlier this year that USAA joined an external firm for the highest possible flexibility in its operations. The companies drone infrastructure is mainly set up in Texas, so it is expected that the insurer will be able to use this technology to its advantage as the storm progresses.

USAA plans to launch its drones once the Federal Aviation Administration authorizes them to go into the area. Once they gain access, they will use the drones to evaluate the extent of loss from property to property. This assessment will cover the homes of their policy holders and will enable loss adjusters to evaluate more claims at a faster rate, safe from the area of the hurricane.

The company has prepared a mobile command center called “Eagle One,” and equipped it with satellite technology, and other communication tools, for easy deployment and manning of the drones. This command center will also be useful after the storm passes.

The USAA first tested its drone program in 2016 when it used aerial unmanned vehicles to assess the damage caused by hailstorms in San Antonio. There were thousands of insurance claims after the storm which was estimated at about $1.4 billion. The experience was a good opportunity for the company to test its unmanned aircraft. This time around, the financial services and insurance company plan to use its drones to facilitate insurance claims from customers after this natural disaster.

The Federal Aviation Administration granted the company an exemption to test its drones in 2015. Although other insurance companies also have approval by the FAA, the response to this storm will be an eye-opener for those who have been lagging behind as the benefits will range from faster damage assessment to safety and lower costs overall. At the end of it all, companies can have real, valuable data on how the drones performed in the emergency.

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