Snuffing Fires: Technology is Smokey the Bear’s Eyes and Ears

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The American West is burning. By July 2018, 1.1 million acres of land had burned in 10 states from wildfire activity that began in June. Over 600 wildland firefighters work to contain fires in Colorado alone. However, 2018 is not unique: according to information published by the EPA, wildfires have been increasing in number and intensity since the 1980s, especially in the American West.

Smokey the Bear isn’t fighting empty-handed, however; these brave public servants use state of the art tech to protect the land. With the rise of data-logging, sensing and networking technology, especially edge IIoT systems, departments on federal and local levels have been able to fight fires in more proactive ways to complement traditional preventive methods.

Data-logging

One of the most widely-used tools in the fight against uncontrolled fires is data-logging. Land managers and researchers alike use environmental data to reduce the potential of forest fires. Analyzing it may lead to predictive measures, such as controlled burns to reduce fuels in a given area, or yield helpful insights during the fire. A few cutting-edge technology devices can be used for data capture. Edge computing IIoT solutions offer one of the largest advantages.
For example, consider public lands managed by a conservation group. Rangers have placed networked wildfire safety equipment, edge devices that communicate over a cloud platform to a database control center, over the area. These devices collect information such as humidity, the presence of certain chemicals, and wind speeds. Periodically, they transmit footage of an area. When recorded data exceeds certain limitations – for example, humidity is at 0%, temperature is above 80 degrees – and other dangerous conditions have been detected, these devices can notify fire safety teams via cloud and cellular technology about potential incidents.

Reviewing the data these machines collect with AI-enhanced software can be used to predict when a forest fire is most likely to happen. Data-logging also helps land managers via historical comparisons: post-wildfire areas vs. pre-wildfire areas. Archived data can answer questions like, “What meteorological events have best helped forests recover after fires?” and “What qualities of a forest helped it grow to resist future fires?”

Sensing

Traditional preventive methods are hands-on and labor intensive. Typical tactics used to prevent wildfires include awareness campaigns, regular patrolling, regulation and detection. While some rangers are busy education the public, there are other authorities on ATVs patrolling miles of forested land, inspecting for improperly snuffed fires or lightning strike fires.

However, the labor required to manage the land can be supplemented by sensing technology. Sensor networks and satellite-based technologies can detect fires when land managers cannot. This may include air quality sensors near campsites that notify rangers when CO2 levels get too high. Orbiting satellites also provide quality imaging of fire activity. Their data streams can be transmitted to mobile apps and active fire maps. Officials can use this information to delegate equipment, firefighting teams and energy to specific fire instances. It also helps firefighters determine the best boundaries for containment.

Monitoring and containment

Constant monitoring of on-going hotspots and potential incidents is the only way to ensure fires remain contained. These rapid reactive responses that put individuals on the fire-line are also the most dangerous. Fire containment without technology involves individuals facing the flames with special equipment, radio communications, tree shredders, aerial fire retardant and hope for change of weather. However, new assets that minimize risk include advanced aerial mapping that uses AR technology and wildfire fighting drones.

Specialized firefighting mission vehicles are used to spray fire retardant over forests. They may be rugged road fire trucks or aerial sprayers. These substances also suppress fires, helping contain flames and prevent spreading. All of them have traditional navigational systems. However, newer models may be equipped with AR-enhanced navigation. These systems indicate information such as terrain, instrument and weather in an intuitive format. Firefighters can respond without hesitation to fires rapidly changing directions or use it to enhance perspective during low visibility due to smoke.

Wildfire fighting drones go a step further by removing the human element from dangerous zones. Individuals can cover twice the ground with half the exposure with drones. Depending on their size, drones may even be used to disperse the fire suppressant chemicals that contain fires. Equipped with cameras, automation and possibly IoT networking, drones make the wildfire fighting process faster, tighter and safer.

Fighting fire with fire

Sealevel passionately cares for the environment. Let our fire for excellent stewardship fuel your wildland firefighting applications and land management data-based research. Our IIoT devices, rugged computers and other hardware will support your solution, guaranteed. We’ll help you keep our trees protected.