After a disaster, it’s important to clean up and rebuild, but it’s also critical to capture the site as it is so that the damage can be assessed. Drone mapping gives insurance companies a fast, easy way of accurately documenting the scene, preserving key details while letting the process of clean-up and reconstruction begin as quickly as possible.
This case study comes from Emilien Rose, founder of Dronotec, a start-up specializing in drone inspection for insurance companies. After working as a loss assessor in France and Australia over the last 10 years and assessing about 8,000 claims, Emilien started Dronotec in December 2014.
“I created Dronotec because I saw the potential for drones to address issues I encountered in my job as a loss assessor, such as assessing dangerous, large or inaccessible areas, while reducing the risk of accidents,” said Emilien. Since starting Dronotec, he’s discovered many ways that remote aerial inspection can add value for insurance companies — as in the following story.
Trouble in Paradise
Earlier this year, a major fire broke out at a vacation destination on the coast of France and consumed more than 2 hectares (5 acres), destroying over 80 small housing units with damage valued at over 100 million euros.
Once the flames had subsided, the insurance company came in to assess the damage. The sheer size of the site posed a unique challenge. To make matters worse, many of the roofs damaged by fire were made of thatch and were not strong enough to support an inspector climbing on them to inspect damage. The loss adjuster quickly realized that it would be very difficult to get a clear picture of what had happened from the ground.
Although a plane had already captured some photos after the disaster, the photos were not sharp enough to be of much use. The loss adjuster recommended the insurance company use a drone to help assess the area, so the insurance company hired Dronotec to map the site.
Once on site, the drone pilot flew a DJI Phantom 3 and automated his flight plan using the DroneDeploy app. It only took about 10–12 minutes , flying at 55 meter (180 feet) for the Phantom 3 to collect more than 300 geo-tagged photos covering the area. The drone pilot also supplemented the automated DroneDeploy flight with some oblique imagery taken manually using the DJI GO app.
Dronotec then uploaded all the imagery to DroneDeploy for processing. Three hours later, a 2D map and 3D model were complete and available in the cloud. That’s when the real work began.
Collaborating to Determine Responsibility
Since the map was hosted on the DroneDeploy cloud, it could be easily shared via email or by hyperlink and became a central tool where the team could collaborate and share findings.
“My favorite thing about DroneDeploy, is that it’s easy to use and easy to share,” said Emilien.
Information collected on site by the loss adjuster and insurance inspector, as well as meteorological data about wind direction, was added to the plan as notes, comments and measurements. In addition to counting the number of damaged units (80), the map, combined with DroneDeploy’s suite of analysis tools, allowed them to instantly estimate the volume of debris to be removed.
In this case, the main issue at stake was how the fire had spread and who was responsible. As the team began analyzing the map, several theories emerged. The first hypothesis was based on the wind direction on the day of the fire, and posited that the fire had begun at a neighboring field on the north side of the housing after burning of old vegetation for agricultural purposes.
The lack of fire damage in the field, however, didn’t support this theory, so the team then considered the wind direction again. Clearly, the fire had spread from northwest (top left) through to the southeast (lower right). After looking closely at the the northwesterly-most point of damage, they identified the first few units to be consumed by the blaze and determined that the fire must have started in or around one of the housing units in this area. Since these units were not on their customer’s property, the insurance company could demonstrate that their customer was not responsible for the fire and thus deny the responsibility claim.
The drone map enabled the insurance company to limit their costs to the 15,000 euro technical investigation and deny the 100,000,000 euro claim.
When it comes to a disaster of this scale, the cost of the use of the drone — about .002% of the total claim — is trivial compared to the amount of money saved by demonstrating that the customer was not responsible. More importantly, “there was no other way to gather data”, said Emilien.
Insurance for the Insurer
The high degree of accuracy that drone maps provide helps improve the likelihood of identifying the cause of an accident. In some cases, like in the one above at the French vacation site, this helps an insurance company decline a claim if they are not responsible. But what about when their client is responsible? Even in these situations, the speed and efficiency of drone mapping can help to reduce costs and damages for everyone involved.
In many claims, damages related to “business interruption” represent a significant part of the overall damages being sought. Delays in the site inspection or assessment process can even cause conditions on site to get worse, increasing the overall damage. Therefore, the faster that the insurance company can accurately assess a claim, the faster reconstruction can begin, and the more that downtime — and related damages — can be minimized.
The ability to quickly process claims — and even anticipate them — is especially helpful in the case of large scale disasters where many customers are affected and the company is inundated by many claims at once.
Using drones to capture a highly detailed rendering of the site saves time on two fronts. On the one hand, a drone can dramatically reduce the amount of time that a loss adjuster needs to spend on site and reduce risk of accident at dangerous sites. Secondly, the quality of the information captured, and the ability to easily collaborate on a web-based map can help adjusters and insurance inspectors complete their analysis faster.
“The way I see it, DroneDeploy is insurance for the insurer,” said Emilen. [click to tweet]
By reducing the time it takes to assess claims, drone maps can save insurance companies time and help the insuree to get ‘back on track’ faster.
An Ounce of Prevention
Drones are rapidly being adopted for loss assessment in the insurance industry, and Emilien expects that over the next few years, drones will be used to assess claims almost everywhere in the world. But Emilien’s not only interested in using drones to help assess disasters — he also thinks they have a role in helping to prevent them.
Before issuing a new insurance policy, insurance companies can use drones to inspect properties and verify the risks to be covered by the insurance company. Once risks have been identified, the insurance company can then work with their prospect or customer to mitigate risks and help prevent disaster.
Where to Learn More
Explore our support documentation to learn more about how to use some of the tools discussed above, including: