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Florida Power & Light Deploys 58 Drones in Emergency Response to Hurricane Dorian, FAA Coordinates Evacuations and Relief Efforts

BY Isabella Lee
5 September 2019

Hurricane Dorian became the strongest and most destructive storm The Bahamas has ever seen as a Category 5 storm over Labor Day weekend. At least 20 deaths have been reported. The hurricane continues to make its way up the United States’ eastern coast this week as a Category 2 storm, bringing destructive wind, tornadoes, storm surges, and heavy rainfall. Recovery and relief efforts are already underway, with drones playing an essential role.

Hurricane Dorian

Florida Power & Light Meteorologist Tim Drum keeping an eye on Hurricane Dorian in Riviera, Fla. on August 31, 2019. Image Source: FPL

The FAA Takes Action in Areas Affected by Hurricane Dorian

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been busy rerouting flights to avoid the path of Hurricane Dorian and helping airlines as they add some flights to aid evacuation efforts. Both general aviation and drone users have been called on to assist.

Of course, prior to flying near any disaster area, general aviation and drone pilots should check NOTAMs and TFRs. Drone pilots must comply with FAA rules and should:

  • Avoid flying in the area unless conducting an active disaster response or recovery mission.
  • Be aware that the FAA might issue a TFR in the affected area. Be sure to check for active TFRs if you plan to fly.
  • Remember that you cannot fly inside a TFR without FAA approval.

Four Airspace Coordination Areas (ACA) over the southeast coast are in place to allow disaster response and recovery flights to operate safely. The FAA has asked pilots flying in the ACAs to be very cautious because many aircraft are operating in the area. Drone pilots should avoid flying in the ACAs without FAA permission.

The FAA approves emergency response drone flights following natural disasters through its Special Governmental Interest (SGI) process, which is open to applicants with existing Part 107 Remote Pilot certificates or Certificates of Authorization.

Penalties may exceed $20,000 if drone operators interfere with emergency response operations. Flying a drone without authorization in or near a disaster area may violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if a TFR is not in place.

Learn how to gain FAA approval to conduct emergency UAS operations.

Florida Power & Light Deploys 58 Drones to Restore Power in Areas Affected by Hurricane Dorian

Florida Power & Light (FPL) has restored power to all its customers impacted by Hurricane Dorian. The company restored more than 160,000 customers, some more than once using smart grid technology. Most outages were caused primarily by downed trees, vegetation, and debris blowing into power lines.

The power company deployed 58 drones to help crews visualize damage in dense or flooded areas that would have been difficult to reach on foot. With the drone-collected visuals and data, FPL was able to determine where to prioritize their efforts and send their crews.

With smart grid technology, some restoration tasks that would previously have required a crew to travel to a site in the field and perform work on overhead equipment can now be resolved with the push of a button. We also deployed 58 drones to help crews get eyes on any damage to our electric system. This high-tech solution provides valuable insight into areas of dense vegetation and flooding, and helps us get the right crews and resources in the right places more quickly.

—Eric Silagy, President and CEO, FPL

To assist the hurricane recovery efforts, DJI unlocked its geofencing restrictions for drones operated by FPL and DJI Enterprise dealers who serve first responders in Florida.

FPL Drone Emergency Response

FPL uses drones to identify areas where vegetation must be cleared before 2019 Hurricane Dorian in Coral Gables, Fla. on August 31, 2019. Image Source: FPL

FPL is now working with other utilities to the north to help reallocate resources and respond to Dorian as it impacts Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. After Hurricane Dorian’s catastrophic impact in the Bahamas, the company will make a contribution to the Red Cross for the Bahamas along with its employees. Additionally, FPL is working with the United Way to gather supplies to assist those in need.

Drones are a Vital Tool for First Responders

Drones’ unique aerial perspective and ability to easily reach inaccessible areas have rapidly made them vital tools for first responders and infrastructure operators after hurricanes.

“First responders and utility companies today rely on drones to help people during emergencies, and DJI expects our products will play a critical – even lifesaving – role in responding to this looming disaster,” said Mario Rebello, DJI Vice President and North America Regional Manager.

In a statement urging drone operators to prepare for Hurricane Dorian, DJI recounted the rise of drone use for hurricane recovery:

Drones were first used widely for storm response after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017, where they were able to quickly inspect and assess infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railroads, power lines and oil refineries. In 2018, the North Carolina Department of Transportation flew more than 260 drone missions responding to Hurricane Florence, allowing them to assess damage, prioritize efforts on the ground, and plan safe routes for recovery workers.

—DJI

In the coming days and months, we’re likely to see more news arise about drones aiding in the recovery efforts post Hurricane Dorian. The diligent work of first responders, utility companies, and emergency relief organizations will be crucial to the recovery of the communities affected.

You can check out these articles to learn more about how drones have helped aid natural disaster response efforts in the past:

Will you be in the path of Hurricane Dorian or involved with relief efforts? Tell us in this thread on our community forum.

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