For decades, organizations like the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have collaborated with scientists to provide emergency responders with innovative firefighting technology. While using satellites, thermal imaging and drones for fire prevention may sound like science fiction, such tools have become vital to fighting wildfires.
The more data firefighters have access to then the better informed they are to deal with fires and other hazards. By increasing the efficiency and success rate of fighting wildfires, this technology trend in firefighting helps save lives and valuable resources.
Fighting Wildfires with Satellites
Satellite technology aids in wildfire detection and helps emergency services monitor hazardous events day and night. One way it does this is by “using a contextual algorithm that exploits the strong emission of mid-infrared radiation from fires,” Earthdata explains.
Another way satellites help fight wildfires is through sensor web technology. In the early 2000s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab developed satellite-linking software to create a virtual sensor web that helps monitor wildfires. Images sent by satellite to ground controllers allow them to get a closer look and verify what they’re seeing before they notify the USFS.
Soon after its invention, sensor web technology data allowed a fire manager to spot a fire in Noatak, Alaska. “It was the first time a fire had been detected by satellite before humans noticed it,” says Sean Triplett, the group leader for geo-spatial and information management at the USFS.”
Sensor web technology increases fire safety and prevention by getting better imagery into the hands of investigators faster and more often. This allows for a more rapid response and better allocation of resources.
Landsat, another form of satellite technology owned by the U.S. Geological Survey, has also been used to fight wildfires. It lets firefighters on the ground plan how to use natural resistance, such as live fuel in the form of trees and brush, to help slow or stop a fire. It can also be used to determine the severity of a wildfire as it burns.
Other Forms of Firefighting Technology
Most wildfires are still surveyed by piloted aircrafts, putting crew members and passengers in danger. A smart alternative is the use of drones. They can be operated by remote control to capture images that assess the speed and direction of the fire. “In 2013, for instance, a California National Guard Predator drone aided in battling the Rim Fire around the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite National Park,” according to National Fire Fighter Wildland Corp. However, this type of drone is expensive, so its use has yet to become widespread.
Sometimes wildfire hot spots can go unnoticed and flare up unexpectedly. The National Firefighter Wildland Corp. says that thermal imaging devices help firefighters identify “spot areas where the undergrowth is still burning but where the fire isn’t giving off any smoke.” There is now a very affordable smartphone-compatible thermal imaging device available that is ideal for use during cleanup.
Additional tools and equipment to help fight wildfires include:
- Fuel analysis
- Wind analysis
- High-tech fire shelters
- Timing devices for equipment precisions drops by parachute
- Fire-resistant clothing
- 3-D virtual reality training for smokejumpers
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- “Firms FAQ.” Earthdata.org. https://earthdata.nasa.gov/firms-faq (accessed July 26, 2016).
- Lopatto, E. “Fighting wildfire with satellites, lasers, and drones.” Thedailybeast.com. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/09/fighting-wildfire-with-satellites-lasers-and-drones.html (accessed July 26, 2016).
- National Fire Fighter Wildland Corp. “5 Technological advances in wildland fire fighting.” Nationafirefighter.com. http://www.nationalfirefighter.com/blog/5-Technological-Advances-in-Wildland-Fire-Fighting (accessed July 26, 2016).