Last August, dual blasts at the port of Tianjin in China where chemicals were being stored killed more than 100 people and destroyed buildings and goods within a 3.1-mile radius. Access to the area of the explosion was restricted from the onset, but one interesting aspect of this disaster was the extensive use of satellite and drone technology to support the claim management process.

Before the disaster occurred, a satellite had taken detailed pictures of the areas later affected. Four days after the disaster, another satellite captured further images and information. The data of both satellites provided a comprehensive collection of all affected cars, containers, and buildings. In fact, Reuters had reported at the time that the U.S. Geological Survey when viewing the satellites registered the blasts as seismic events.

The satellite images provided valuable information about the extent and, to a certain point, degree of damage. Combining this spatial knowledge with data mining and web-crawling methods could establish the link to the individual insureds affected.

Moreover, data from drones served to complement the information provided by the satellites. The copter drones (depending on flight altitude) were able to capture areas with a resolution of just a few centimeters. This data could be used to actually fill the gap in loss assessments where available satellite data are either too poor in terms of resolution or cost-intensive. In fact, the insurer of the blast, People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC), used the drones to compare satellite photographs of the site ahead of the blast with high-resolution images taken later by drones, and were able to determine how many vehicles had been destroyed and total the losses for German automaker Volkswagen.

The combination of satellite and drone data might also lead to a better understanding of loss events and their causes. For example, data from satellite and drones revealed that the explosion crater (100 meters in diameter) in Tianjin was situated outside the housed storage areas. This is what led to the conclusion that the chemicals responsible for the explosion must have been stored in the open. Existing standards of storage obligations will help to reduce the chances of such an event recurring, provided, of course, that the standards are followed.

Roanoke Underwriting provides agent and brokers with a total commercial marine insurance solution for global trade and logistics risks. This includes companies with global supply chains, 3PLs, freight forwarders and property brokers, and custom brokers. To learn more about our portfolio of products, please contact us at 1.855.213.4545.