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The Challenges Of Using Drones In Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

An expert discusses what needs to happen to successfully use drones in emergency management situations.

Drones are a powerful tool in emergency management, but challenges remain in using them to their full potential.

Intel, Apple, AT&T and Alphabet are just a few of the tech giants playing a big role in the technology’s evolution. Even the U.S. Department of Transportation is investing in its use cases as surveys continue to highlight the technology’s value, including one from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action that finds 60 percent of international aid professionals see drones as a way to improve response times and increase access to impacted areas. Yet, as the story of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria shows, more action is needed before those benefits can be realized.

’There is a gap between the capabilities that we know we have and capabilities that I think first responders, emergency management and communities need,’ said Noel Zamot, revitalization coordinator for Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board.

Zamot says drones were not available in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Alphabet and AT&T, however, were the first to bring cutting-edge technology to the island. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved a request by AT&T to use a new drone to help restore cellular service in November 2017, nearly two months after the storm. In January 2018, Duke Energy began using drones, provided by AceCore Technologies, to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure.

’To actually provide the resources, help and the technology that a community needs in the middle of an emergency response [requires] a lot of coordination beforehand,’ said Zamot.

Zamot says the issue is not specific to Puerto Rico and is urging all technology service providers and stakeholders to contact local and federal officials now and ask how they can help before the next disaster strikes.

Watch more of Zamot’s interview in CRNtv’s video.

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