Fighting wildfires – a technological perspective
The number of wildfires is increasing all over the planet each year. There is no single understanding, principles, or guidelines on how to prevent them. Everything depends on the willingness of owners of forests to take care of their territories as well as on society’s level of education on how to behave inside and around forests. Given the overall development of technology, different advanced technologies able to detect and prevent wildfires are becoming more accessible. However people in the industry are not that keen on using them yet, so let's explore methods that currently are available for fighting wildfires.
A lot of countries and fire
prevention organizations are still using the same old methods, with people
guarding territories physically and following any signs that might indicate the
possibility of a fire. Usually, these people are trained and located in towers
high above the ground. This method is effective when a person is in an “office”
above the treetops which is usually the case on working days. However, fires
don't know that they should start during working hours and can also break out
during the night.
In some countries, there are
applications available for regular people - if they notice smoke or they
suspect that there is a fire in the forest, they notify services via the app.
It can detect the location of the person so it can inform also about the approximate
location of the possible fire. And the person also can point to it on a map.
It has been noticed that to some extent developed countries rely on the social behavior of their citizens. Not only for taking care personally in matters related to fire safety but also for actively reporting incidents that have been noticed.
Monitoring from the sky
Some countries use monitoring systems that are based on satellite data. It is an appropriate tool to cover big areas. Using satellites in Europe is cheap. The organization just needs software that analyses the information. However, analysis takes some time and the area covered by the satellite is quite big. This approach could be useful in large areas such as Siberia or Canada and in territories where there is no dense population.
Another option how to observe forests from the sky involves private pilots flying around. Of course, this is an opportunity for richer countries where is a significant amount of pilots. They know that they have an obligation to report if they notice something suspicious.
There are some indications that civil airliners are considered to be equipped with advanced surveillance equipment to compete with satellite data. In this case, wildfire detection can be one possible service. However, this would work only during and in the places covered by flights.
Different cameras, different outcome
Cameras are widely used although their types and approaches differ. For example, some countries are trying to use already existing cameras that are located in the area without specifying the type of camera. In the United States, network cameras are set up by volunteers that use them for different purposes, but they don't mind services using devices for smoke detection.
In regard to cameras specifically used for wildfire detection, then currently, thermal cameras are quite widely used for this purpose. Yes, these are the same cameras that are used to measure the energy efficiency of buildings. These types of cameras recognize the heat. However, the challenge is that they tend to be more expensive than much simpler optical cameras. If they can cover a range of 12 kilometers from their location, then it is not hard to imagine the number of thermal cameras required to do high-quality surveillance in the broad area. However, they could be very effective if the source of the fire is very close to their location. But if there are a lot of mountains in the region then this camera is not as effective, because it cannot see into the more remote distance.
Another aspect to consider about thermal cameras - there could be situations when the heat is not enough for the thermal cameras to be able to detect a wildfire. Significant vegetation already has to be burning for the heat to appear. However, in real life, there could wide areas of steppes that could already be burning and the heat could be so low that cameras can't detect it.
Some companies and fire prevention services are trying to use IoT solutions by setting up a network of sensors in the forest. This requires an autonomous power supply and connection to the network. These sensors detect the chemical content of the smoke and some small components of it. If sensors detect smoke, they report it. This sounds great but with existing technologies, you need one sensor per square kilometer. And this is still a very optimistic forecast... In reality, you might need even more sensors that make this project even more expensive.
The chemical content of the smoke can also be detected by multispectral cameras. By analyzing the spectrum they can indicate the consistency of the smoke. However, it is not always capable of distinguishing smoke from the fog.
The key is early detection
So why are we at Amplicam fans of optical cameras? First things first - you don't have to invest loads of money in devices, because you can use affordable cameras together with the appropriate software. Success stories of our clients have shown that the software is the key. Even in combination with the simplest optical cameras that cost 10 times less than, for example, thermal cameras, Amplicam software can detect smoke up to 18 km area from the location of the camera. And as fires start with smoke, smoke detection is vitally important.
What about using manpower? Data and nature monitoring is an exhausting task. It is not possible to keep the attention on the same level all the time. That's where the artificial intelligence of Amplicam can help. The application’s superior detection capabilities are achieved by applying the most advanced and proprietary machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms. The result is high-quality analytics that can generate sensible alarms for surveillance employees. So relatively cheap cameras and appropriate software make wildfire surveillance effective even on a low budget.
It is still important to keep in mind
that whenever a fire is detected, everything depends on the forces on the
ground and their opportunities to reach the scene of the fire.