Can aerial imagery meet climate change challenges?

Can aerial imagery meet climate change challenges?

As worsening weather events increasingly force residents to vacate their homes and seek safety elsewhere, 2022 brought a mass migration of over 3 million people. And with 67% of U.S. residents experiencing an increase in severe weather events, how can insurers prepare themselves to combat these events and keep customers safe before they even make landfall?

Aerial imagery technology isn’t new to the insurance industry, but as it continues to evolve so do its applications and capabilities. And when combined with machine learning, the data extrapolated from aerial imagery acts as a powerful tool in an insurer’s toolkit, enabling them to predict which areas will be most greatly impacted and the resources that should be deployed for damage mitigation and reparations.

The value aerial imagery provides insurers

Aerial imagery helps create a baseline of potential risk before a weather event takes place, pinpointing specific areas, such as landmarks or buildings, of higher vulnerability. Leveraged proactively, these visual assets can help insurers survey a region and capture images of the land, supporting a greater understanding of the local geography. This includes existing infrastructure, potential vulnerabilities in buildings, construction sites, foliage and other factors that help insurers provide sufficient protection to customers. For example, underwriters and claims professionals can use aerial imagery insights to identify structures that need to be raised higher off the ground or reinforced more adequately to protect them from flooding or other infrastructure threats. In addition, the ability to expedite a claim by integrating AI-based property intelligence in the process, provides critical insights.  In other words, the application of aerial imagery in both predictive models and real time claims management continue to represent foundational applications for insurers.   

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Once disasters like hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and wildfires have subsided, aerial technology supports insurers in identifying the most highly impacted areas. And with regions currently experiencing an uptick in wildfires earlier than anticipated, tens of thousands of people are being displaced before wildfire season even officially begins. Aerial imagery can map the impact of these infernos so that insurers and citizens can better quantify the extent of damage and habitability of these regions once firefighters have quelled the flames. Within hours of a weather event dissipating, insurers have a clear understanding of the level of destruction and those impacted, which ultimately informs how insurers identify the types of resources, and how much, must be deployed to the area for restoration. And when insurance companies need to work in lockstep with local municipalities on these time-sensitive missions to distribute materials, aerial imagery paves a clear route for emergency responders by highlighting safe travel routes and those unfit to traverse. 

Tracking migratory movement with aerial imagery

Since 2010, the number of climate refugees has risen to a staggering 21.5 million people globally and research indicates that this upward trend is likely to continue with a projected 1.2 billion people potentially being displaced by similar climate-related events by 2050.

Sometimes dubbed the “forgotten victims” due to the lack of visibility into migration patterns of groups impacted by natural disasters, aerial imagery helps provide insight into how natural weather events move populations. As regions take in more climate refugees and displaced citizens, the area quickly transforms to account for the additional residents—and transformation can look like increased housing developments and insurance needs. Aerial technology affords insurers a deeper understanding of land development and steps local governments are taking to accommodate the influx of people within their localities because of displacement. While drones are more likely to be used to better understand the number of displaced people entering an area, aerial imagery can take these insights one step further. This technology enables insurers to have a clearer understanding of how an area has evolved to meet new needs by showing where people are populating in the wake of the migratory movement. 

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Meeting a changing environment with transformative technology 

Since it was founded, the insurance industry has been tasked with the same objective—protecting people from unexpected risks and life events. The imperative to do this job well has increased tenfold as the severity and impact of natural disasters continue to surge rapidly. 

The emergence of machine learning enables insurers to rapidly respond and provide accurate coverage in the wake of weather events with ease, as these technological advancements automate imagery recognition processes. In doing so, a time-consuming procedure that historically took three weeks is completed in three days. A recent example of this in action is the impact of Hurricane Ian and the unparalleled damage it caused for Florida residents. Machine learning aided insurers in sifting through imagery to help them more easily identify important insights to inform their work. And as machine learning evolves, its applications within the insurance industry will only continue to expand. In parallel, aircrafts outfitted with aerial imagery technology are flying higher altitudes without sacrificing the level of image quality, enabling insurers to view larger pieces of land, offering greater insights to a larger roster of customers in times of distress like natural weather events.

The steady increase in severe weather events is likely to continue, causing further displacement of residents throughout the U.S. in areas more affected by their devastation. The ongoing evolution of aerial imagery technology can support insurers as they work to predict and respond to these events and their far-reaching impacts effectively. So, while natural disaster events will remain an ongoing issue that insurance companies must anticipate and address, aerial imagery technology enhances and augments an insurer’s work and enables residents to safely remain in their homes.

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