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AP

Commercial drones are being used to quickly scope out damage, map 3-D views of the flood zone and help with rescue efforts in the areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Drone inspectors: Outside of disaster recovery, one of the fastest-growing uses for commercial drones is to inspect infrastructure, property and equipment. That's how companies and local government officials are putting drones to use, especially in badly flooded areas that are still too dangerous for people to venture into.

How drones are being used to assess damage:

  • AT&T is using drones to inspect cell towers for damage near Corpus Christi. Drones can provide a more detailed view of the sites than human cell tower climbers, and it can inspect more towers in less time, freeing up workers to make the most urgent repairs. The company told Axios it has deployed 46 drones so far, and has an additional 58 drones on standby.
  • Allstate Insurance will fly hundreds of drone missions a day to inspect property in what is probably is largest-scale use of the technology, as will USAA and Farmers Insurance, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
  • DroneDeploy, which makes software for drones to capture images while flying, plans to publicly share data collected by drones in the areas affected by Harvey so the community and rescue operations can zoom into 3-D maps to see around buildings and bayous and under trees, CEO Mike Winn told Axios. He estimates drones can work six times faster than humans trying to reach the scene.
  • The FAA has authorized oil and energy companies to look for damage to their facilities, fuel tanks, power lines and other parts of the local power grid.

Taking to the skies: The Federal Aviation Administration warned unauthorized drone operators to steer clear of emergency response operations. As of Thursday, the FAA said it has authorized 43 drone operators who are supporting the response or covering it as part of the media.

Lives saved: Drone enthusiasts also point out their life-saving potential. In a March report, drone maker DJI says drones have rescued at least 59 people from life-threatening conditions, by its count. More than one third of the people rescued were saved by drones operated by civilian bystanders and volunteers, according to the report.

Go deeper

GOP implosion: Trump threats, payback

Spotted last week on a work van in Evansville, Ind. Photo: Sam Owens/The Evansville Courier & Press via Reuters

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it's even worse.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

The limits of Biden's plan to cancel student debt

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Axios Visuals

There’s a growing consensus among Americans who want President Biden to cancel student debt — but addressing the ballooning debt burden is much more complicated than it seems.

Why it matters: Student debt is stopping millions of Americans from buying homes, buying cars and starting families. And the crisis is rapidly getting worse.

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.