Could Drones Help Hurricane Harvey Survivors?

With the news sharing current updates on the Hurricane Harvey situation in Texas and Lousiana, many have had speculation whether using drone aircrafts to assist rescue teams could be helpful. Without question, this is a yes. However, what about those not necessarily on the rescue team but wanting to help?

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other government agencies issued terse warnings for civilians to keep their drones out of areas where official rescue operations are using low-flying aircraft to locate and evacuate Harvey’s victims. (Much of the footage of the storm had until recently come from television news crews on the ground.) U.S. Air National Guard Maj. Gen. James Witham this week likewise warned civilian drone operators against flying over Harvey’s disaster zone, for fear the mere sight of unauthorized drones would ground rescue helicopters. U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft expressed similar concerns.

Many tech enthusiasts and drone lovers want the FAA to find a way for civilians to fly their drones and coordinate with first responders searching for those needing help by possibly helping spot the survivors and deliver medical supplies and food to victims waiting for help. To add to this argument, Chris Koopman, director of the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center said “Though the perceived risk of colliding with a drone may significantly hamper operations by deterring law enforcement and medical personnel from conducting search and rescue operations in the aftermath of Harvey, the actual risk of a serious accident as the result of a drone collision is very low,”. Koopman also added “consumer drones are so lightweight that they pose “negligible risk” to pilots and passengers, even if one were to strike another aircraft,”.

Still, the FAA has not been very open to this idea and has placed a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) which defines areas of emergency as off limits to private drone use with a threat of significant fines for noncompliance. Some speculate that drone pilots could face these fines even if a TFR has not been issued in a particular area granted there are first responders already in the area. Just in case the FAA’s ban was unclear, the Texas Military Department—which includes the state’s Army National Guard, Air National Guard and the Texas State Guard—on Saturday posted a map on Facebook highlighting areas covered by the FAA’s Harvey TFR.

More on this debatable subject, one example—unrelated to Hurricane Harvey—occurred on Sunday, when an unauthorized drone flight shut down helicopter firefighting operations over western Montana’s Rice Ridge as responders fought to contain the blaze and officials evacuated nearby residential areas.

Despite emergency responders’ pleas for drone pilots to stay out of the way, there is still plenty of aerial footage documenting Harvey’s assault on Houston. This is not necessarily taken in violation of the FAA ban, however. The first FAA flight restrictions for the Houston area covered only a small portion of areas affected by flooding and did not take effect until 7 p.m. local time on Monday, almost three full days after the hurricane made landfall, Koopman says.


To conclude this, I want to get your thoughts? Should we start a petition with evidence to show that the FAA should allow civilian drones to assist in search and rescue missions? Or do you think that the FAA is right with their speculation by disallowing drones to fly near emergency areas? Leave a comment below!