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Drones Make for Easier, Safer Insurance Assessment

Drones seem to have found their way into the claims assessment process. They allow companies access to areas their employees may not be able to reach safely.

by Victoria Advocate / September 7, 2017

(TNS) -- About two hours and 30 minutes after his insurance adjuster arrived to assess damage to his home, Victoria resident Troy Davis had his claim check in hand.

An adjuster with his insurance company, Travelers Insurance, assessed damage to Davis' roof, garage and fence. Kevin Mullinax, Travelers technical specialist, is one of 65 of the company's adjusters using drones to help assess damage in Hurricane Harvey affected areas.

"The drone usage was pretty cool," Davis said. "(It's) pretty innovative. He was able to look at spots that I wouldn't want to get up on."

Before August 2016, Travelers used drones on a very limited basis, said Judy Senechal, company spokeswoman. That month, the Federal Aviation Administration released commercial drone regulations that made it easier for companies to use them on a wide-scale basis, she said. The company has done more than 4,000 drone damage assessment flights in 38 states in the last year.

"Our first wide-scale use was in response to Hurricane Matthew, which was October of last year," she said.

Drone usage for insurance assessments makes the process quicker for the customer, Senechal said. Otherwise, when insurance adjusters assess a high or angular roof, they often have to hire a third-party vendor to go on top of the roof.

Mullinax said drone usage is common practice for the company, and they're used depending on the situation. Drones are safer to use than sending someone on top of a steep roof to look at the damage. It is also quicker.

"High-resolution photos really kind of tell the story of what's on the roof," he said.

Drones speed up the claim process, and often adjusters can print out a claims check on site.

Mullinax has been in Victoria for about a week assessing homes and businesses and will be in the area for another three weeks. He usually assesses three to four properties a day and uses the drone depending on fly zones and damages.

When he meets with a customer, he walks the property with them, documents and verifies damages, prints out and explains a claim estimate and, finally, gives the customer a check.

"Drones speed up the process and keep us safe," he said.

State Farm has been testing the use of drones and will send them to Texas for further testing following Harvey, said Chris Pilcic, company spokesman.

"We'll be utilizing drones to better understand how they can complement the claims process," he said. "They won't be used for actual claim handling in this event."

Company officials see drone technology as a potential tool to help adjusters assess damage and serve communities impacted by natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

The company has sent more than 1,000 claim adjusters to Texas to hurricane-affected areas and is processing about 31,700 auto and 35,800 property claims related to Harvey.

Many insurance companies are implementing drone usage mostly for handling claims more so than independent agents, said Jim Gavin, Independent Insurance Agents of Texas property and casualty insurance specialist.

Drones document accurate dimensions of a roof and take high-quality photos of damage.

Insurance companies started using drones about five years ago and on a more widespread level during the last year, Gavin said.

"A drone can look in areas where an adjuster can't physically get to," he said.

©2017 Victoria Advocate (Victoria, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.