Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Integrating Smart Technology in Emergency Management

The Emergency Management field is evolving to integrate smart technology in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery operations. Many post-disaster procedures—like search and rescue and damage and risk assessments—are conducted using boots-on-the-ground personnel. This manual effort often consumes crucial response time, requires additional labor hours, and increases first responders’ exposure to hazardous environments. But emerging technologies like Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, can drastically improve disaster operations by quickly gathering accurate data, allowing communities to leverage technology to better support information and situation monitoring, provide accurate mapping, and improved public information and advocacy.


Drones are unmanned aircrafts or vehicles that range in size from the size of a passenger aircraft to the size of a child’s toy. Drones can be equipped with several features like cameras, mapping lasers, detection devices, and communication devices. For example, infrared drones can detect heat signatures of wildfire hot spots or missing individuals, while drones equipped with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology can create detailed 3D maps of urban areas, which can help track flooding or debris.

These features make drones useful tools for emergency managers responsible for making crucial decisions during emergency response, because they enable efficient collection and analysis of data. When access is impeded by flooding, debris, or confined spaces, drones may make the difference in directing rescue efforts quickly and efficiently and locating survivors. Drones can also be used to assess damage to critical infrastructure, reducing the time it takes to get essential services to get back up and running and directing long-term recovery needs.


After Hurricane Irma, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) issued 132 airspace authorizations for drones to evaluate damage, identify immediate repairs needs, and help assess the scope of damages throughout central and southern Florida.

Local governments are not alone in catching on to the power of emergency management’s newest venture. Following Hurricane Harvey, Insurance companies in Houston used drones after Hurricane Harvey to scan infrastructure, collect aerial images of the damage, and forward the data to claims adjusters, enabling processing three claims within one hour. Without drones, the same process would have taken 24 hours.


To operate a drone, a pilot must fly under one of the following licenses issued by the FAA:

  • Part 107 Drone Pilot License – Pilots must pass the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test (the Part 107 Test) to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate and comply with the other Part 107 rules and restrictions.
  • Certification of Authorization (COA) – Public agencies submit a COA application proposing their UAS operations for the FAA’s evaluation and authorization.
    • Emergency COAs – These are granted to first responders or other organizations, with Part 107 certification or a COA, for natural disaster relief, search and rescue and when there is a high risk of loss of life. Emergency COAs can be obtained within hours through the Special Governmental Interest (SGI)

For additional information on which license might be appropriate for you or your organization, the hyperlinks direct you to the FAA program website.


Hurricane Sandy displaced millions of cubic yards of sand from Staten Island beaches that protected adjacent communities from dangerous storm surge and coastal flooding.  Immediately after the storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering (USACE) prepared a series of drone-created LiDAR maps under the Coastal Assessment Technical Assistance Mission Assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support Emergency Protective Measures for critical infrastructure in response to Hurricane Sandy. In order to protect residents, the USACE designed several temporary dunes along specific low-lying beaches in order to meet the 10-year still-water level (SWL) shown in the LiDAR maps.

Hagerty Consulting reviewed the maps and USACE’s proposal, finding that the measures could be eligible for reimbursement under the Public Assistance Program; the drone LiDAR maps reinforced that creating a single dune by raising existing low-lying beaches to the 10-year SWL would further protect the inland communities against future disasters.


Drone technology holds a lot of promise for the emergency management field as it advances. As camera resolution becomes clearer, flight engineering evolves, and artificial intelligence paves the way for autonomous drones, drones will undoubtedly play a significant role in preparing, responding to, and recovering from disasters.

Bianca Castro is an Associate within Hagerty’s Recovery Division supporting New York City’s policy and closeout teams. Prior to joining Hagerty, Bianca was a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs from Syracuse University. Bianca currently resides in New York City and continues to explore technology’s role in public policy when she isn’t cycling or searching for NYC’s best pizza.