How this drone pilot found a new career after a devastating hurricane

How this drone pilot found a new career after a devastating hurricane
Oct 6, 2022


Omar López combines his interest in drone technology with a passion for serving others as he helps rebuild his community


After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, countless citizens across the island were forced to leave their homes and uproot their lives. The Category 4 storm caused extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure, just as residents were coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Omar López was one of the many Puerto Ricans whose life was significantly impacted by the hurricane. Just before Maria made landfall, Omar was finishing a master’s degree in biological oceanography. When the storm hit, schools were severely damaged, and many remained closed for a long period of time. This led Omar to take a step back from his education and move in a new direction.

“The hurricane changed my career path,” says Omar. “When Maria hit, I was completing my master's degree in oceanography, and I had started using drone technology in my research. I learned that ICF was building a local team for the recovery effort, and I reached out about becoming a drone pilot.”

Omar soon joined a team of six other drone pilots and helped kick off the recovery effort for Puerto Rico. The team conducted damage assessments of buildings across the island by collecting high-resolution video, panoramas, and photos.

Bringing a talented pilot like Omar into the recovery effort was invaluable, as drone technology revolutionized our disaster assessment process. Traditionally, damage assessments have been a slow, expensive, and unsafe process. Several workers would visit a site, manually take notes, and capture photographs—often in dangerous conditions that required the use of ladders and cranes. It could take an assessment team of five to six people up to two days to complete a damage assessment. With drone technology, our team can conduct two to three site inspections in a day.

"Using drones meant we could reduce the time needed to complete inspections and damage assessments by 60-80%, all while keeping our staff safe on the ground."

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Within a year, we completed over 1,200 site inspections in Puerto Rico.

In addition to supporting recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, Omar and our disaster management team have used drones to assess damage in Louisiana after Hurricanes Laura, Delta, Zeta, and Ida. The team has been able to close out around 400+ site inspections from this work. And drone technology has enabled our team to quickly respond to initial disaster assessments from the recent Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico.

“I took my passion for helping others and incorporated the drone technology I was using for Marine Sciences and brought it to my new career in disaster management.”

Omar is one of 150+ Puerto Rican recovery specialists at ICF. Our local team collaborates with other U.S. disaster management experts as we work together to help build a more resilient Puerto Rico.