What Are Emerging Technologies In Wildfire Prevention And Protection?
31 May 2021
Wildfire season presents special challenges to firefighters, and environmental trends point to even more frequent wildfires in the future, due to factors such as global warming. Technology, in all its variety, provides new tools to aid departments tasked with fighting wildfires. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the emerging technologies in wildfire prevention and protection?
Integrated communications platforms are critical for public and firefighter safety during wildfires. Today’s leading emergency warning and public safety notification systems are multi-channel and combine hardware and software to provide real-time warnings, evacuation instructions, and safety information during crisis situations. These systems include hardware capable of delivering both warning sirens and voice messages with exceptional clarity over local or large areas from fixed locations, and from mobile systems mounted to emergency vehicles, including fire trucks. The next-generation audio capability of these systems enables voice broadcasts to penetrate buildings and provide lifesaving information to people sheltering in place. The fixed public safety notification systems feature satellite connectivity, battery backup, and several command-and-control options to ensure continued operation when local power and communications infrastructure fail. Software systems feature real-time SMS and Cell Broadcast mass messaging to the mobile phones of individuals and populations endangered by wildfire or other critical events.
One of the newest pieces of equipment we have purchased for our fire department is a high-pressure hose used for wild/brush fires. This hose looks and feels like a pressure washer hose you would use at home; however, it is much more powerful. The pressure is as high as 1500 psi. The standard 1-inch hose we were using for grass fires, and fire departments have been using it for years, only put out around 100 psi. This ultra-high pressure separates the water droplets as it exits the hose, which disperses them over a broader area. Therefore, we are able to use less water and put out more fire because of it.
Lidar technology is recognized to be a game-changer for wildfire severity prediction, risk management, and prevention. Lidar uses lasers to map the elevation of the ground and objects above it, like buildings and vegetation. Unlike a boots-on-the-ground approach, lidar can rapidly deliver a detailed understanding of vegetation structure and ground topography across large areas. Capturing detailed information on slope and aspect as well as forest structure over a large extent is critical to analyzing fire behavior fuel models, canopy fuel conditions, and ladder fuels, all of which impact the type of and intensity of wildfires. These assessments provide critical information for land managers on their fire risk and practical steps that can be taken to reduce it. These data, when analyzed, will lead to improved protection of property, people, and the ecosystems they exist in.
Internet connectivity is not an obvious emerging technology in the wildfire prevention and protection industry; however, today’s cloud-based databases, applications, and communication infrastructure force firefighter teams to have access to fault-tolerant and high-performing wireless connectivity options. Broadband Bonding is the technology that combines 2 or more off-the-shelf cellular sim cards to create fast and reliable Internet connectivity on the go. The additional resiliency and boosted performance can be the difference in a successful campaign versus one that falls short. Broadband bonding devices are attractive as they use the commonly available networks, so they are based on standard cellular technology and therefore are very cost-effective. For scenarios where satellite connections are an option, those satcom terminals can be combined with any other Internet connection including other cellular modems, to create robust Internet connectivity for mission-critical applications.
Vegetation management is part of wildfire management. In order to understand the current state of vegetation and to accurately predict future growth, we need data — in the form of HD images. Until recently, such high-quality images were not available, and there was no ability to keep those images updated at a consistent rate. Previous methods involve human error, are very slow and are inaccurate due to climate change’s effect on fixed annual cycles of vegetation. New 360-degree cameras, for the very purpose of mobile mapping, are capable of this. They are extremely robust, the highest-resolution cameras on the market, and the most mobile due to an onboard GPU (avoiding having to have a computer within the vehicle). With this technology, agencies and communities can maintain updated maps and compare them with previous data to more accurately predict where there are potential risks involved in future vegetation growth or proximity to utility lines.
According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), lightning causes just 14% of wildfires but results in 58% of the acreage burned. Quickly identifying and responding to lightning-triggered wildfires is an important factor in minimizing damages. All lightning transfers thousands of Amperes of electricity and can be hotter than the surface of the sun, so pinpointing the lightning most likely to start fires can improve wildland fire response. If you liken it to a hot poker, the longer the poker is in contact with an object, the more likely it is to burn. Scientists have developed a technique to identify these particularly damaging “continuing current” lightning strikes by uniquely combining lightning duration data from geostationary satellites with cloud-to-ground lightning data from terrestrial lightning networks like the National Lightning Detection Network. Adding continuing current lightning data to the wildland fire management toolbox can give additional response time to potential wildland fire starts.
Among the new technologies to promote wildfire prevention and protection are integrated communication platforms, laser mapping of vegetation and ground topography, better Internet connectivity, and the use of high-definition images to understand vegetation and predict future growth. There is even an improved high-pressure fire hose that disperses droplets over a larger area. These and other technology tools will augment the heroic effort of firefighters around the world who are tasked with minimizing the impact of another wildfire season.
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