Following a spate of insurtech failures, Rebecca Jones, CEO and co-founder of drone technology provider Iprosurv, argues that newcomers need to get real and stop promising the world.
Either by design or by accident, the insurtech community has been positioned as either the disruptors of, or in more recent years, the saviours of the insurance industry.
Which is handy because throughout 2020 it has become clear that however proud we are of our industry, there are huge issues that must be addressed, and quickly. So far, the industry has shown that it cannot find its own way out of the current situation – it needs the energy, the willingness to change and the know-how to make it happen that often only an outsider can bring.
But if the stars are aligned for incumbents and insurtechs to create a new future for the industry, why have we seen so many incomers stumble and fail in the last 12 to 18 months?
In a series of interviews with the founders of failed insurtechs, conducted by Oxbow Partners, every single one said the industry simply wasn’t ready for the change they were bringing and that their big idea hadn’t met current market needs.
Now that may be a catch-all to hide various other failures, but it is very revealing and starts to get to the root of why so many insurtechs fail. It’s fine to have a great idea and vision for the future of insurance but if it isn’t practical, isn’t actionable and doesn’t actually help those in today’s industry do things in a better way, then there is literally no point to it.
Whatever insurtechs aim to do, it has to be grounded in reality to have any chance of being adopted, never mind changing the industry. It seems that too many have been too keen to take on all the problems facing insurance in one go, racing to be the one that delivers the game changer.
But that is like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the game changer exists only in the minds of the deluded. Any new entrant into the market, whether they identify as an insurtech or not, will only make inroads if they are 100% focused on fixing the problems, or enhancing the opportunities, of today.
If they continue to focus on a too-distant future, they will continue to fail. And that doesn’t just damage their business – it damages anyone who seeks to apply new technology to traditional processes.
Because every time distrustful incumbents see another insurtech fail, it reassures them that they were right all along, that they should keep doing things the way they always have. And if that trend continues, we will all have failed.
It’s time for those of us who promise a better future for insurance to get real about those promises. We might see the potential that technology brings. We might get frustrated at those who don’t get it. And we might even think it’s all going to be a waste of time.
But those frustrations are our failures, not the industry’s. They can be addressed by being realistic about the application of the technology we have and rather than taking a technology-first approach, we have to look at what isn’t working or where opportunities aren’t being exploited and only then seek out the technology or approach that can address it.
If insurtechs continue to promise the world and deliver only failure, a real opportunity to change insurance for the better will be lost, perhaps forever. Far better to rein in those ambitions and frustrations and get real about what insurance really needs.
We must first focus on today and only when we’ve cracked that, can we move on to tackling tomorrow.
The Grenfell disaster which claimed the lives of 72 people was not a one-off event, absorbed and grieved over before everyone moved on. The repercussions of that night are still with us and continue to be significant for residents of high-rise buildings across the country. And, indeed, for the landlords, housing associations and local authorities responsible for those properties.
The task facing the nation’s property managers is huge. They have to survey an estimated 1,700 high rise blocks, remove the cladding and make them safe to live in. And they need to do it quickly.
Which presents a huge fiscal challenge for everyone involved, not least local authorities.
It has been estimated by the same Committee that the cost of making each building safe will be £1.7m, covering everything from initial inspection, to the removal of cladding, to finishing the job. While it is clear that cutting corners or looking for cost savings in materials isn’t a viable option, there remains a pressing responsibility to keep costs down to make that fund stretch as far as is safely possible.
One part of the process where costs and timescales can be significantly reduced is in the inspection and survey of all these buildings through the use of drones. Not only can they do what a human can at a fraction of the cost, they can do it faster and with a greater degree of safety.
Drones are often viewed in extremes – either as a hobbyist’s toy or as a weapon of war. They are of course both, but increasingly, they are making their presence felt in the commercial world as more and more organisations wake up to their flexibility and adaptability. And one such area is the surveying of inaccessible properties.
Using High Resolution RGB imaging, drones can inspect the condition of a high-rise property (at a distance), in minute detail, in a fraction of the time it would take to do so manually using scaffolding, cherry pickers or ropes. The High Resolution RGB imaging is then translated into a 3D interactive model of the property which can be inspected in detail (up to 20mm) highlighting even the smallest amounts of damage to the outside and, when using thermal imaging, investigating anomalies such as damp ingress and thermal efficiency of the fabric of the building.
If LIDAR is incorporated increased levels of accuracy can be achieved down to 10mm and below.
The whole process, from instruction to inspecting the model, can take two or three days rather than the weeks and months required with traditional methods, and it is the speed with which drones can conduct surveys that should have landlords and local authorities sitting up and taking notice.
One of the problems facing property managers is understanding, in detail, the scope of the risk posed by their property portfolio and with the safety of tenants paramount, they need to understand it quickly.
Drones can help them do that as several inspections can be conducted in one day or over a period of days, providing the local authority with a quick, comprehensive view of their portfolio, including which properties pose the highest risk.
From here, the triage process begins, and drones are a speedy, cost-effective way of streamlining it, allowing the local authority to act quickly on its most vulnerable properties.
Drones can also act as a quality control tool to monitor and assess the ongoing work, and that governance role extends to post-work inspections to ensure the property has been re-instated as required.
If used properly, drones could and should act as the start and finish point of this remediation work and while they are not, of course, a catch-all solution for the many problems dogging the remediation programme, they do have a crucial role to play.
If the current remediation fund will not, as has been suggested, be sufficient to complete all the necessary work, then it is vital that any safe, reliable and proven cost-cutting measure be embraced as soon as possible.
In common with much of the commercial world, local authorities are at the early stages of exploring the possibilities presented by commercial drones. And in common with their private sector peers, it is those that recognise the opportunity earliest and act first, that will gain the most.
And that means giving tenants up and down the country quicker and more certain reassurance that they and their families are safe in their home.
As more and more providers turn to remote technology to keep the claims process going we asked Waseem Malik, Executive Managing Director of Claims for AXA Insurance to give us his view and why he thinks greater use of tech and increased digital capability is finally here to stay in
It’s hard to find positives in a global pandemic but I’m an optimist so hear me out.
The insurance industry isn’t known for its revolutionary tendencies. We prefer to change things incrementally, safely and surely. We get there eventually, but it often takes time.
And it has been no different with the digitisation of the industry. There isn’t an organisation worth its salt that is not going through some kind of digital transformation but if I’m honest, none of us have done it at any great speed.
But this is where the positive in the pandemic comes in. Of course, insurance isn’t alone in this but by being forced to work remotely, we have all had to find new ways of doing that, from managing claims to conducting risk assessments and everything in between. And we’ve had to do it quickly.
The answer to that problem has, almost every time, been tech and I’m glad to say that we have embraced this wholeheartedly at AXA where we have been accelerating our use and deployment of this.
For example, customers can report and submit their claim, complete with damage and incident details, via their phone allowing the claim handler to get moving as soon as the data is in.
And for large losses, particularly in property, we have been able to use tech such as drones, rather than people, to safely assess the damage and get the claim moving.
Neither of these processes are new. The difference now is that rather than seeing tools like these as an option, they are the first port of call and whenever we emerge out of this pandemic, I think they will remain vitally important.
Because it’s not just the industry that has had to adapt to this – customers are also getting used to a new way of doing things. And the feedback we are getting on these tech-led approaches is extremely positive. The smart use of tech speeds the claims process up, it makes our decision making much more transparent and it makes their experience of dealing with us much easier.
They have seen what is possible and how our use of tech positively impacts their experience, so they’ll expect more of the same and we need to deliver it. But I am acutely aware that the conviction of one insurer isn’t going to give our customers the experience they or we want.
All parties need to understand the value of this tech. I can easily imagine an underwriter offering preferential terms to a broker who comes armed with detailed drone data on a risk. Why wouldn’t they? The data doesn’t lie.
And for adjusters, not only does it allow them to assess a site quickly and safely, it is cost effective too and in a sector of the market where margins are wafer thin, that has got to be a benefit they and insurers want to embrace.
It’s not just about drones – they are simply an example to illustrate my point. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has forced many of us to adopt tech more broadly and with greater speed than we would perhaps have imagined – just look at all our kids using Microsoft Teams, better than us in many cases, for their online lessons!
But for customers and the industry to get the full benefit, we all need to understand and accept the value it offers. This is an opportunity, driven by tragic events, but an opportunity nonetheless and if we don’t take it, we will have let our customers down.
Not only that. We will have let the next generation of insurance professionals down, those people who are looking to us to create the industry of the future, and we will have let them down badly. I for one don’t want to be here in five or ten years’ time saying “I told you so”. I want to be here saying “I was part of the revolution”.
Iprosurv has again established itself as one of the UK leading supplier of drone services, with the successful award of a place in the £8m contract in conjunction with YPO and the Home Office national framework agreement.
Iprosurv tendered for one part of a four-lot contract to deliver drone services through their nationwide platform of CAA approved drone operators and associated services to the public sector organisations, in particular the blue light organisations and the emergency services, the contract runs for 2 years until 2022 with a further option to extend for a further 2 years until 2024.
Iprosurv will be on the YPO government
framework agreement delivering a fully managed inspection service, along with
bespoke services including immediate response for blue light services wishing
to deploy drone technology where they have no or limited in house capability.
The award of the contract is testament to the continued success of Iprosurv and platform of dedicated professional pilots, in conjunction with flight safety and client service at its core.
Rebecca Jones CEO of Iprosurv commented, “We are extremely proud to have been awarded a national framework agreement with YPO, in conjunction with the Home Office, to provide associated services. Throughout 2019 we have supported over 50 organisations where they have no or limited in house capability. Increasingly we have seen deployment for major incidents on the rise through our existing partnerships in instances such as fire and floods and its not an uncommon for Iprosurv to assist the emergency services with vital aerial data insights whilst the pilot teams have been on site. Its evident drones are becoming a vital tool to collect fast and accurate data whilst improving public safety. To further support both the blue light and emergency services along with the wider public sector is a testament of our award-winning service and demonstrates our niche and bespoke solution of deployment capability is encouraging wider use of safe drone deployment”.
Explaining the reasons behind the drone
framework, a YPO spokesman said: “We were approached by the Home Office to
discuss a gap in public procurement. Explaining the
reasons behind the drone framework, a YPO spokesman said: “We were approached
by the Home Office to discuss a gap in public procurement.
“Naturally we are very excited to be working with the Home
Office and on a framework that incorporates drone technology, but we are also
really pleased to be working closely with the police and fire and rescue
They concluded: “After much discussion and healthy deliberation,
a lot structure was agreed, believed to be fit for purpose for all
public-sector organisations, not just police and fire.
“The group involved in creating the framework has a wide
knowledge base. This, coupled with different personal requirements, is what
will make the framework a benefit to emergency services and the wider public
This follows a recent further award and a place of two lots out
of a three part lot of a £1.1m framework agreement – drone services, data
modelling to local authorities and housing associations.
As 2020 begins, thoughts inevitably
drift towards what the year ahead holds. For many of us that means well-meaning
new year’s resolutions, but technology experts are once again seeking to
pinpoint emerging trends and over the next 12 months, we could see the most
transformative technology taking shape in the skies above us.
There are huge potential benefits to
be had from emerging drone technology and if we get it right, we could soon
have drones delivering medical supplies to people in our most congested cities
and harder to reach communities. Drones can also monitor and respond to traffic
accidents, track animals, monitor crops, watch for poachers and provide aid
when natural disasters strike. The potential benefits are huge.
All of this explains why the global
civil aerial drone market is expected to almost triple over the coming decade,
to £11.4bn in 2028. But to make the most of the new technology in the UK, we
first need to deal with questions and concerns about irresponsible and illegal
Most drones are currently controlled
via hand-held radio transmitter with flights restricted to the radius of radio
signal reception, meaning that they have to fly within visual line of sight of
the pilot. But as Vodafone argues in our new report to be published next week,
there are huge gains to be had from drones that are able to fly safely ‘beyond
visual line of sight’; something that is possible via the safer and more secure
alternative of cellular-connected drones with an inbuilt SIM card connecting
them to a mobile network.
Only with a cellular connected drone
is it possible to track and control the device so that it can be flown safely
and securely from some distance away. Cellular connection can provide further
benefits as a complementary system for verifying location and the ability to
have dynamic no-fly zones which can provide significant security benefits.
Understandably, it is this type of
drone use that the public wants to see more of. While rogue operators have
previously attracted negative headlines from incidents such as at Gatwick
Airport in 2018, polling shows that the vast majority of the public would
support the more widespread adoption of drones if there was a mechanism to
provide increased safety, security and monitoring. For example, 92% of people
support drone use for tacking fires and natural disaster relief.
To ensure the UK moves in the right
direction on drones, the Government should recognise and analyse the
substantial benefits that can come from cellular-connected drone use. It is
only by pushing forward with the development of these drones that the UK can
fully benefit from the use of the new technology, whilst ensuring they are
flown safely and securely.
Across the world, organisations are
waking up to the benefits of responsible drone usage. Here in the UK, the
London Fire Brigade has been trialling the use of drones to improve safety for
their firefighters and to allow more accurate responses to incidents.
Firefighters also used drones to tackle the giant blazes during Paris’s recent
Notre Dame cathedral fire. By doing so, they were able to make tactical choices
to stop the fire at the time when it was potentially occupying the two belfries
of the cathedral.
Further afield, drones fitted with
high definition thermal cameras are increasingly used to track, inspect and
monitor livestock remotely. The government of Assam in India partnered with
Tata Consulting Services to use drones to conduct surveillance, identify
unauthorized settlements and deter poachers in Kaziranga National Park. With
drones spread over 480 square kilometres, they can now identify poachers from
their heat signatures even if they are hiding in thick foliage. Already, this
effort has proved beneficial for the vulnerable one-horned rhino.
If we get it right, then it is not
just our emergency services and endangered species that will benefit. The
economic prize for the UK could also be enormous. By 2030, it is estimated that
there will be 76,000 drones in the skies above the UK and 628,000 jobs in the
UK drones economy. Drones are also expected to contribute to considerable GDP
uplifts in many industries, including £8.6bn in construction and manufacturing,
£7.7bn in wholesale, retail trade and food services and £11.4bn in the public
All the signs are that, in the next
few years, responsible use of drones is set to bring huge gains for the economy
and society. The UK is ready to reap the benefits of cellular-connected drones
technology and if we do then 2020 could be the year that drone technology truly
For most people, their home is their biggest
asset, but let’s say you are business owner – would it be fair to
say that the business is your biggest asset. When we say asset we mean of
course it’s people, it’s buildings, it’s machinery and it’s stock. Progressive
use of drone technology means it is now much easier to ensure all aspects of risk
to any asset of any business are improved. To put it more simply drones can
protect people and businesses.
We look at an example below where drone imagery played part of a larger customer proposition providing greater insights for the broker, customer and insurer tailoring a policy around the customers requirements and assisting with an inherent building defect which, once identified and rectified led to an improved underwriting risk.
Aston Lark Case Study: Risk Management – Aerial Drone Survey
A book printing client in Suffolk has grown dramatically over the past 150 years, having grown from a single building to an array of buildings covering a 600,000 sq ft area. The buildings have been constructed without access to roof spaces and therefore inspecting the condition of their roofs and guttering was extremely difficult and dangerous.
Aston Lark carried out an aerial survey using the latest drone technology. We were able to offer our Client a close-range inspection of their roof and other areas of their buildings not easily visible or accessible from the ground.
Watch the video to see how we work closely with our clients to manage risk.
Following the aerial survey, we provided the client with high-definition quality footage and stills which are presented in a 3D interactive tool. This enables the Client to view the entirety of their building and zoom in on areas of concern to within a foot. This ultimately enabled our Client to identify areas of concern and take remedial action before it caused further problems and cost.
To find out more about Aston Lark’s Risk Management offering and how it can benefit you, click here.
Iprosurv are the UK’s leading drone pilot supply chain facilitating deployment to insurers and related sectors.
Find out more how Iprosurv can assist your business with ongoing property management, risk consulting or claims adjusting. www.iprosurv.com
It would not be a huge stretch to say drones have taken a fair bit of negative press in the last couple of years. Even a casual news reader would have read at least one incident involving a near-miss between an aircraft and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), with the most obvious example being the closure of Gatwick airport for nearly 2 days following reports and sightings of drones near the runway. This incident alone affected 140,000 passengers and circa 1,000 flights costing over £50m to the airport, airlines and various components of the supply chain.
But are drones bad? Are they just an expensive toy? Or
can they deliver tangible benefit in specific scenarios and industries?
In this article, Jonathan Jones and Greg Paton discuss how
and why the insurance industry has adopted the use of drones for claims
adjustment, the benefits to the industry and the customer and scenarios in
which Zurich are deploying drones following a loss.
The use of drones in general is nothing new, the emergency
and armed services have been using drones for decades, and the use of
underwater drones or Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) have been pioneered for even
longer than that.
So, you may ask, what is all the fuss about drones in the
insurance industry? The benefit of utilising drone technology, especially
coupled with high definition camera’s, enables insurers to look at risks when assessing
exposure prior to inception, on ongoing risk engineering evaluations, and of
course post loss incidents in the claims environment. The benefit also stretches
to the assessment for wide area damage such as flooding, storms and civil
” The importance of choosing a reputable partner is highly important to Zurich”
The use of drones has significant benefits for insurers in resource efficiency, which ultimately reduces costs to the industry and the customer. Instead of a costly site visit, involving multiple parties and the expenses associated with this, a post-loss drone survey can take high definition videos and pictures giving parties a vivid picture of the loss in question. These images and videos can be used by loss adjusters and claims professionals to evaluate coverage and make interim payments in a much quicker fashion. At Zurich, we have made substantial interim payments to customers within a few days of a loss based on the extent of damage seen on the drone survey and in accordance with our Claims commitment.
” Zurich have recently teamed up with a company specialising in drone flight, Iprosurv“
It is not only the original drone footage that is of assistance,
given it provides a unique perspective on the extent of damage, it also allows
for accurate measurements to be taken, and 3D modelling to be performed at the
In addition where a building or site is inaccessible, due
to there being a dangerous structure or contamination, then the deployment of a
“disposable” lower cost drone can be agreed, in the event that there is a danger
that the drone might be lost, or indeed contaminated beyond economic
Zurich have recently teamed up with a company specialising in drone flight, Iprosurv, and we have agreed stringent service level agreements, to ensure we can be on site and filming footage in the early stages of the incident, and the drones can help with cause and origin investigations. Since partnering with iprosurv 12 months ago, the Major Loss Team have utilised their services 11 times on claims with a combined estimate of £143.5 million. The nature of these losses range from shopping centres, schools through to social housing fires.
With the average cost of a drone survey in the order of GBP1,500.00 there are clear financial benefits, with the customer engagement opportunities, to showcase, an intangible bonus. The importance of choosing a reputable partner is highly important to Zurich. Whilst drones are fairly new to insurers, they are subject to high regulation within the UK and, part of a consequence of the Gatwick incident, will continue to have the spotlight when it comes to further regulation. Commercial drone operators must obtain a license in order to operate and profit from flying a drone. The risk of injury or damage to a third party or third party property must also be considered, highlighting the importance of choosing a professional outfit when undertaking these surveys.
As of November 2019, all drone operators must undertake a compulsory online test to show they have knowledge and practical understanding of the current regulations and are fit to operate drones in an external environment.
The insurance industry is continuing to embrace
drone technology, but commercial drone operators such as Iprosurv still have so
much more to offer our clients and continue to assist and educate our clients
on the benefits of drones, including
better safety, efficiency, faster turnaround time, and reduced costs. Goldman
Sachs estimates the global drone industry to reach $100 billion by 2020. Given
that insurers today are struggling with an increasing amount of damage from
natural disasters and fraud, plenty of insurance companies are aspiring to be
data-driven organizations. PwC reported that drone technology could help the
insurance industry save as much as 6.8 billion USD annually.
Insurance companies are already turning to commercial drone companies. Drones can play a part in all the stages of the insurance lifecycle, especially claims management and fraud prevention. Drone powered solutions also help with real-time insights, risk monitoring, and assessment, as well as improving customer experience during claims and surge events.
Drones can be used to gather data before a risk is insured, to help in preventative maintenance, and to assess damage after an event. They also allow insurers to engage a generalist, rather than a specialist, to perform field assessments and obtain high-quality visuals. The insurer can achieve significant cost savings through improved efficiency, generating the ROI for investing in drones. Insurers are increasingly using drones for property assessments. Used in the Risk environment drones can help policy holder and insurer formulate a maintenance program over the term of the policy or prior to insurance inception.
Accelerate Claim Management
Insurance companies can assess damage quicker and
more efficiently with drone operations by eliminating the need for multiple
site visits. For example, a drone can help a claims adjuster process three
houses in an hour, whereas without one, an adjuster could process only about
three houses in a day (Farmers Insurance). Drones can increase inspection
efficiency by up to 85%.
Data Touch Points
When a claim
occurs, it can involve multiple stakeholders, Loss Adjusters, Insurers,
Forensics, Structural Engineers, Emergency Services, Local Authorities each one
requiring instant visual data to make key decisions in the progression of the
claim or incident, large amounts of data can be obtained by the use of drone
technology, but the use cases don’t stop there, through the use of advanced
analytics and software’s stakeholders can receive the data in multiple use
formats from basic photogrammetry, 3D modelling, BIMM models. Each stakeholder
may use the same data set in a different way dependent on the information they
Drones can particularly play a significant role
while settling agricultural insurances, as they assess the actual yield and
cultivable land. A drone can gather data on 500 to 1,000 acres in less than a
day, thereby reducing the time it takes to settle claims- from days to hours.
Using drones, Drones have been able to survey three times as many acres as an
adjuster on foot and efficiently account for all of a customer’s crop damage.
Improving Customer Experience During Catastrophes
Inclement weather and challenging to reach
locations, make it cumbersome for insurers to reach, which eventually results
in delay and failure to resolve a large number of claims in a given time. Storms
and floods make up large percentage of insured losses. As seen in the aftermath
of Hurricane Irma, 300 high-rise buildings were inspected by GFA Generali
insurance using drones. The process took just ten days, whereas a ground crew
of the same size would have taken several months.
When appraising property claims, claim adjusters
typically encounter hazardous situations. Drone-mapping is a safer inspection
method. Companies like Iprosurv are making drone roof inspection more efficient
and safer by reducing their exposure to accidents and hazardous conditions. With
the implementation of Iprosurvs Major Loss package insurers, loss adjusters,
forensics, structural engineers and local authorities to name but a few can
have access to vital data to asses interim payments and scope of works all this
can be done without attending the initial site visit when the structure is deemed
unsafe to enter or the site is under a strict health and safety cordon due to
the possibility of collapse or injury to personel.
Bespoke Online Portal.
of the art software and technology we are able to deliver large amounts of data
in user friendly interfaces. With the addition of Iprosurv bespoke portal we
are able to deliver large amounts of data in a safe compliant environment with
multiple stakeholders. The system is setup to be an end to end system for our
clients with multiple touchpoints built in.
If you would like to know more about Iprosurv
please do not hesitate to get in touch with us by visiting our website at www.iprosurv.com.
Dr Monica Rivas Casaldo, senior lecturer in Integrated Environmental Monitoring at Cranfield University, discusses how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can quickly capture data on urban flooding to give an accurate picture of property damage – meaning interventions to limit damage can be made immediately.
The average annual cost of flood damage to property in England is more than £1bn and rising. One in six properties are at risk, and the average cost of the repairs for each property ranges between £10,000 and £50,000.
It’s a cycle of threats, misery and repairs that’s exacerbated by the time involved in assessing costs for insurance claims. Residential and commercial property owners are advised not to undertake any clearing up activity until the damage has been assessed by the insurance company, which is time-consuming and costly to undertake. There can be substantial further costs if any dwellings become uninhabitable and the residents have to move into alternative accommodation.
There needs to be detailed understanding of the likelihood of flooding, its likely magnitude and impact in order for there to be the most reliable and effective insurance provision available, with appropriate premiums, excess and loss adjustment. Costs for property owners can be mitigated by adopting different measures, such as resilience and resistance measures (flood guards, hard floor surfaces and waterproof plaster etc) and by making use of insurance products that spread the risk and ensure coverage to as many properties as possible. These will typically cost in the range of £3000 to £10,000 but can significantly reduce the impact of flooding.
Current flood damage assessment by the insurance industry following an event relies on a combination of door-to-door inspections and remote sensing techniques. Many Canadian insurers, for example, use satellite imagery pre- and post-event to assess risk exposure, estimate the number of claims in an area and assess the need for loss adjusters. Similarly, Swiss Re relies on CatNet, a software system that overlays satellite images onto Google maps enabling an assessment of the extent of the flooded area to be made and to determine where claims will arise. But there are a number of factors that limit the effectiveness of remote sensing methods: spatio-temporal coverage may not be available for the required zone and period; optical imagery cannot provide information if there is low cloud cover; satellite data that can penetrate cloud cover has an oblique viewing angle which makes it difficult to discriminate water from other urban features. Also, current remote sensing approaches don’t provide enough detail to assess the effects of micro-topography in streets and the presence of property flood resistance measures.
New results from a study of the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to capture data on urban flooding has demonstrated their potential as a more effective alternative. UAV aerial imagery offers both timely (on-demand) and increasingly detailed (higher resolution) information than comparable satellite or aircraft imagery. UAVs can also be deployed to assist in the response to flooding in conditions and areas that are not accessible by manned aircraft or helicopters. In the last five years, the use of UAV technology has increased exponentially with a varied range of commercial platforms (rotary blade, fixed wing, and nano and hybrid drones) and sensors. An estimated 600 UAVs were used globally in 2015 by police, firefighters, humanitarian relief, and disaster management, with the number being used doubling on a yearly basis.
Initial research was carried out at the time of the major Cockermouth flooding at the end of 2015. As a result of storm Desmond, a total of 466 properties were flooded due to flood risk management structures being overtopped and outflanked. The event was a consequence of heavy rainfall over an extended period with more than 300 mm of rain falling over a 24 hour period, which translated into flows in the Derwent River of 395 m3 s−1 at the Ouse Bridge gauging station and 170 m3 s−1 at the Cocker Southwaite River gauging station. The estimated annual exceedance probability for the observed event was less than 1% for both rainfall and river flows.
A fixed wing platform UAV was selected for the survey to maximise area coverage under the rainy and gusty conditions. The Sirius-Pro platform had a 163 cm wingspan and a length of 120 cm, able to fly for up to 50 minutes, and equipped with a16 megapixel Panasonic GX-1 on-board camera. Images were used to identify the flood impact and extent, with each point being assigned a confidence level (high, medium, or low) describing the uncertainty associated with its impact classification and the potential for the impact to have been generated from any other source rather than flood. The raw UAV high-resolution imagery was used to reduce the level of uncertainty when possible. The resulting flood impact point database was used to identify residential property that could have been flooded during Desmond.
The direct tangible losses (domestic clean-up, household inventory damage, and building fabric damage) for the affected properties were calculated using a UK specific methodology. The losses (without VAT or other indirect taxes) for a residential property of a given type and age (for example, pre-1919 detached, 1975–1985 semi-detached, and 1919–1944 flat) were estimated based on the flood water depth within the property. Residential properties with directly observable resistance measures (i.e., flood aperture guards for doors and windows, flood resistant airbricks, and raised doors or steps leading to a property) were also taken into account, alongside the type of flooding (overbank topping, pluvial run-off, and groundwater) affecting the property.
The results from the UAV analysis were compared with those from the classic door-to-door approach (assumed to deliver 100% accuracy). The UAV framework was found to provide an accuracy in the detection of flooded properties of 84%. The results also highlighted the importance of considering all sources of flooding even when an event is largely thought to be fluvial in nature. It is important in the initial evaluation of an event to consider flooding from all sources not just from the overtopping of flood risk management structures. There were significant levels of pluvial and lateral flow flooding, with a total of £3.6 million in direct tangible losses assigned to 168 properties outside the fluvial flood extent. This comprises 36% of the total direct tangible losses associated with all sources of flooding in Cockermouth during this event. These properties were not initially identified as being flooded as the initial responses focused on the fluvial flood extent. Resistance measures present within the area resulted in a considerable reduction in direct tangible losses (£4 million). The work presented here also highlighted the importance in selecting accurate remote sensing loss-adjustment approaches, with a discrepancy in direct tangible losses between the two approaches tested of around £1 million.
The UAV approach will facilitate a better and faster estimation of the extent and impact of a flooding event, a more rapid evaluation of the affected area and the associated damage costs, also enabling loss adjusters to prioritise their individual household impact assessments. What’s needed now is further development of the system to allow for a more automated process and near-real-time data.
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