The Impact of Drones on Insurers and Claimants
Strategies for success as demand for drone services increases in claims departments.
By Eric Gilkey
Rimkus recently was one of two forensic engineering investigative firms granted an exemption by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) —also referred to as drones—in their commercial work. Claims Management sat down with company representatives to learn more about their choice to focus on the use of quadcopter drones in their work and their strategy for success as demand for these services in claims departments increases.
You chose to get an exemption to use the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter drone for forensic inspections. What made you choose this model?
“Using a hover-style quadcopter drone not only enables us to position a high-definition camera close to structures for detailed examinations, but also gives us the ability to view large areas from great heights,” says Robert P. Kocher, chief operating officer at Rimkus. “We view our drones as a valuable tool that will benefit our clients in a unique way.”
Are you seeing a growing demand for these services?
“We believe this technology will change the face of our industry. With aerial drone technology, we can now obtain better, more-timely data in the most challenging environments with less risk,” says Curtis R. Brown, president and CEO of Rimkus Consulting Group. “Many insurance carriers and corporate risk managers have expressed strong interest and are moving forward with research and development of drone technologies for property damage assessments in response to natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires, as well as catastrophic events like oil spills and industrial explosions. Drones offer unique flight characteristics and aerial photography platforms for capturing imagery and vital data that will help property owners and insurers assess disaster sites, expedite claims handling, and speed up the recovery process.”
What impact could this technology have on the insurance industry as a whole?
“There are a variety of ways drone technology will apply to the insurance industry, said James W. Jordan, P.E., S.E., LEED AP, vice president of Rimkus’ national property division. “For instance, it’s not hard to imagine the impact this technology could have on underwriting and risk assessments. Right now, we can utilize drones to assist property owners, risk managers, insurance brokers, and underwriters who are interested in performing risk surveys, such as property condition assessments, environmental site assessments, and probable maximum loss assessments of commercial buildings and structures. In the future, we see the need for conducting drone inspections of process plants, pipelines, marine facilities, utilities, drilling operations, mining, and wind and solar farms.
“When it comes to claims, drones will help insurers understand the scope of catastrophes much more quickly, and give claims professionals the ability to inspect losses that are difficult if not impossible to reach otherwise—think steep-sloped roofs, fire-damaged buildings, and vehicle accident mapping,” continues Jordan. “They also enhance the safety, health, and welfare of these workers and give them the ability to resolve disputes and settle claims more efficiently.”
What are the qualifications required to operate this technology?
“The qualifications and experience required to operate drones for commercial purposes is extensive, per current regulations,” says Jordan. “A company that wishes to use this technology must receive approval from the FAA by petitioning a Section 333 exemption, which involves a great deal of preparation and effort.
“Additionally, all drone aircraft used must be registered with the FAA,” he continues. “Once approved, there are extensive requirements that must be followed. For example, licensed pilots must be used to operate the drones, visual observers are required, various notifications and documents must be prepared and maintained, and monthly reporting to the FAA is required.
“Any work that is done not using FAA-approved vendors could be shot down, so to speak, by claimants or their attorneys, not to mention the danger they could pose to other aircraft and privacy concerns,” says Jordan.