Headed for New Heights: Employing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Resiliency Evaluation

by Emily Schlickman, ASLA

Aerial photos of Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston
Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston during and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 / images: Jonnu Singleton

Over the past four decades, the United States has experienced 241 distinct climate and weather-related disasters, each incurring over $1 billion dollars in damage. From catastrophic wildfires and landslides in the West, to hail storms and tornados in the Midwest, to unexpected freezes and destructive hurricanes in the Southeast, these events are becoming more common and more expensive. While the overall average since 1980 has been 6.2 billion-dollar events per year, the average for the last five years has doubled, to 12.6.

In response to this trend, landscape architects, urban designers, and urban planners are not only embedding resiliency-focused strategies into their work, they are also assessing the performance of their built work in the face of these events. To do this, they are expanding the traditional designer toolbox to include emerging devices that might help with this assessment. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represent one type of tool currently being tested for resiliency analysis.

Commonly known as drones, UAVs have a complicated history rooted in the military. For over 150 years, they have been used both on the defensive, for reconnaissance, and on the offensive, with predatory exercises. In the last 10 years, though, with the rise of the consumer drone, applications for UAVs have significantly increased. For the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, many professionals have been experimenting with UAVs to document built work, focusing primarily on marketing and promotional functions.

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