Aerial footage allows rapid post-incident surveying for safer analysis
Fires have torn through several iconic properties in the UK over recent months, and drones have provided real-time footage of the flames and their aftermath to the public.
Glasgow School of Art’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh building suffered a devastating fire in June while still completing repairs from a previous inferno. More recently, a Primark store located in Belfast’s iconic Bank Buildings went up in flames.
The BBC broadcast drone footage of the Belfast fire as it erupted, while three days after the Glasgow fire it showed detailed footage cataloguing the extent of the damage to the burned-out building.
Drones taking off in insurance
Drones make it possible to get unrivalled pre and post loss access to commercial properties. In many instances they can record a loss in progress. Drones can then scope out the damage long before physical access is possible.
There has been a lot of talk about the potential benefits drones offer insurers and policyholders, but it has taken time for the market to put fleets of drones in the air and make the most of their capabilities.
Drones allow insurers to make swift decisions on liability and assess commercial property claims faster and more efficiently. They provide detailed information on the extent of the damage and expedite decisions on value. But drones are not yet used universally.
More than just a picture
Artificial intelligence (AI) means the imagery and video collected by drones is just the tip of the iceberg. In itself, the footage is more useful than aerial photography or satellite images because it has a much higher-resolution. For example, claims handlers can zoom in to see half-centimetre nicks in roofing asphalt caused by a hailstorm.
However, AI makes it possible to get a lot more out of the recorded images and video. Measuring software makes it simple and safe to survey buildings accurately, even those parts of buildings that are high or inaccessible.
AI can produce 2D illustrations and 3D models to form the basis of a claim report and help the handler visualise the area in question. Image recognition software can assess the scope and scale of any damage and estimate the cost of repairs.
The ability to survey damaged properties in this detail means insurers can prepare in-depth claims reports quickly and often without the need for a claims adjuster to inspect the damage first-hand.
In the aftermath of many major losses, physical access is restricted until the structural integrity of a building has been assured or toxic materials have been removed. Restricted access delays loss surveys and means it takes longer to agree quantum and settlement.
Drones have the potential to do away with these delays. If insurers use drones to conduct pre-loss surveys at the underwriting stage, they will be able to compare before and after imagery and this will further expedite the claims process.
As drones gather detailed footage, AI can cross reference the location of the commercial property with additional data sets to help validate a claim. For example, local rainfall and windspeed data will be useful in assessing storm damage and flood claims. Comparison with pre-loss imagery will also help to draw a line between existing wear and tear and damage caused by the loss event.
Drones and AI have the potential to make claim workflows significantly more efficient, but there are some practical issues to overcome.
Where a drone is used for business purposes in the UK, the pilot must have Permission for Commercial Operations from the Civil Aviation Authority. In the future, FM Global anticipates that it may become standard for claims handlers to complete this accreditation as part of their job description, but that is not the case now.
Alternatively, insurers could employ an in-house team of pilots or work with a third party to provide pilots as required. The drone footage could then be analysed with AI systems populating a claim report with images, measurements, digital models, damage assessments and cost estimates. This could then be verified by an office-based claims handler.
The nature and severity of a claim will determine which approach is most appropriate and whether claims adjusters need to combine a personal inspection with detailed drone footage.
How the market makes the most of advancing drone and AI technology remains to be seen. What is certain is that they will have a significant impact on the speed and accuracy of claims settlements in the coming years, generating significant benefits for commercial property owners.