After Harvey, insurance drones take to the Texas skies

In this Aug. 30, 2017 photo, Laura Shell, center, a Travelers catastrophe claims specialist from Lexington, Va., trains to become a certified drone operator at the insurance company's Windsor, Conn., training center. (AP)
Updated 05 September 2017

After Harvey, insurance drones take to the Texas skies

WINDSOR, Connecticut: Insurance adjusters are bringing more drones with them than ever before as they head to Texas to assess the damage from Harvey.
Companies are using the drones on a much larger scale to record images, save time and spare human adjusters from venturing into potentially unsafe areas. Insurers have increased their fleets since the Federal Aviation Administration eased some restrictions a year ago, and tried them out in areas of the southeastern US hit by Hurricane Matthew last October.
Travelers Insurance, based in Hartford, had 65 certified drone pilots as of Friday among the 600 employees deployed to the Houston area. Claims specialist Laura Shell, who will be in Texas this week, spent last week at the company’s training center in Windsor, Connecticut, learning how to pilot drones.
“This is great,” said Shell, 55, of Lexington, Virginia, whose job typically has involves climbing a lot of ladders. “It’s going to allow me to get a look into areas that aren’t easily accessible and onto roofs and do it quickly.”
The drones will dramatically cut the time it takes to assess damage, according to Jim Wucherpfennig, vice president of claims for Travelers. The company has trained 300 employees as certified drone operators and expects to have about 600 by early 2018, he said.
Instead of making two or three trips to a house, often with an outside contractor trained in setting up scaffolds and ladders, the adjusters will now be able to do detailed exterior inspections in one trip. The drone’s camera is linked to an application on the employee’s phone, allowing them to take measurements and shoot high-definition photos and videos, often while the customer looks on.
The drones do have limitations. They cannot fly in heavy wind or rain, and they cannot go inside homes to inspect damage.
That’s one reason State Farm has decided, for now, not to use its drone fleet in Houston, spokesman Chris Pilcic said.
“With the damages caused by Hurricane Harvey, our claims adjustors will likely need to inspect both the interior and exterior of the home to assess coverage and damages,” he said. “For this situation, we find that the best way to service our customers and evaluate coverage and damages is through on-the-ground claims handling.”
Most major insurers now have a fleet of drones, and the technology has become so inexpensive that even smaller companies are beginning to use it, according to Jim Whittle, chief claims counsel for the American Insurance Association. He said the benefits were evident in the response to Hurricane Matthew.
“If you had a good line of sight, for example, but you were stopped by nature or law enforcement from entering an area, you could put a drone in the area and get access to that property,” he said. “That could demonstrate immediately that that was a property that had considerable wind damage, let’s say, and allow the insurer to cut a check.”
Allstate has contracted with a third-party drone operator to do hundreds of inspections a day in the Houston area, spokesman Justin Herndon said. The company also is using fixed-winged aircraft, equipped with artificial intelligence technology, to assess damage to the entire region, comparing images from before and after the storm, he said.
“This is the widest-scale use of drones that we’ve ever been a part of to date,” he said.
People will use the information from the drones and planes to help make their estimates, Herndon said, but the technology won’t take the place of adjusters. Wucherpfennig concurred, saying Travelers claims specialists will almost always do an on-the-ground inspection to get a final written estimate. But, he said, the drones give them a head start.
“It’s all about getting the customer back on their feet more quickly, paying them more quickly so they can get their damages repaired as quickly as possible.”


Hague hearing offers ray of hope to Bangladesh’s Rohingya

Updated 10 December 2019

Hague hearing offers ray of hope to Bangladesh’s Rohingya

  • International Court of Justice seeks to address atrocities committed by Myanmar

DHAKA: Several members of the Rohingya community in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar expressed optimism on Monday that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would rule in their favor once it began its three-day hearing against Myanmar on Tuesday.

The case was filed by Gambia on behalf of all Muslim nations from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) with the ICJ over the alleged persecution of the Rohingya by the Myanmar military.

On Nov. 18, the court decided to hold the hearings from Dec.10 to 12. Gambia’s justice minister will lead his country during the hearings.

Both Canada and Bangladesh have been supporting Gambia by providing different data and information regarding the atrocities against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s state councillor and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has already reached  the Netherlands to lead the defense lawyers on behalf of her country at the ICJ.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque will remain present at the courtroom to witness the process.

He will lead a 20-member team, comprising government officials and civil society representatives.

Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar are highly optimistic of securing justice at the ICJ.

“We think justice will be ensured because all international human rights groups, different UN organizations and the international community have got evidence of the persecution on the Rohingya. All of them have visited the refugee camps many times and listened to the plight of the Rohingya,” Sawyed Ullah, a community leader from Jamtoli, told Arab News.

“Also, we have strong evidences of atrocities committed by the Myanmar government to root out the Rohingya from their birth place, Rakhine,” Ullah added.

“Without ensuring accountability, there will not be any safety and justice in Rakhine. Once the accountability is restored,  all of us will be able to go back home.”

Ramjan Ali, another refugee from the Kutupalang camp, said: “Myanmar’s government has forcibly displaced the Rohingya from their own land and that compelled us to shelter here at the refugee camps. Isn’t it enough evidence to justify our allegations against the Myanmar government?”

Ramjan Ali added: “Still the situation in Rakhine is very bad as we receive information from our relatives over there. We need protection from the international forces before any repatriation, and the ICJ’s decision will be helpful for us in this regard.”

Rohingya human rights activist Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the German-based Free Rohingya Coalition described the ICJ’s move as historic.

“It is first ever since we are persecuted. We have been seeking for justice since very long time,” Lwin told Arab News, adding that “finally the case is now at the world court and although it will take several years we are now excited for provisional measures from the court.”

Lwin, along with some 200 Rohingya rights activists from around the world, is set to hold a protest rally at the Hague from Dec. 11 during the ICJ’s hearing.

“We are expecting very much from the ICJ. Regardless whether Myanmar follows the decisions of the court this will have a huge impact. There won’t be any other justice mechanisms if this international court of justice can’t ensure the justice for us,” added Lwin.

Expressing his frustration on the repatriation process, Lwin said that the Myanmar government still had a “genocidal policy” on the Rohingya.

“I don’t think repatriation of the Rohingya will take place soon unless the government is considering to fulfill our demands,” he said.

The ICJ’s final decision will hold strong significance as any decisions taken by the ICJ are binding on member states.

Both Gambia and Myanmar are signatories of the Genocide Convention.