The Real-Time Wildfire Surveillance (RTWS) System includes 1 to 100s of portable Data Acquisition Units, DAUs, and one or more central or local monitoring stations (MSs). The DAUs are deployed upon firefighters responding to a fire and are positioned at strategic locations in the potential path of the fire (e.g. along fire roads, in canyons, on hills, in valleys, around or on buildings, etc.). The DAUs can operate day and night to send out wireless signals from embedded sensors (e.g. temperature, directional IR, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, position and orientation) and cameras (e.g. visual or IR) to MSs where fire analysts and central and Structural Protection Unit, SPU, commanders may use graphically displayed information and images to help understand a fire, predict its movements and provide for more effective and timely deployment and withdrawal of firefighters.
The portable DAUs are extendable to heights of 5-10 feet and include radio transmit and receive capability and may act as radio repeaters to provide improved communication reliability for the network as a whole. At the top of a DAU a movable microprocessor controlled working head (WH) is located and carries a plurality of sensors that yield, e.g., multi-direction IR, wind direction & speed, humidity, pressure, WH & air temp., GPS, compass & gravity orientation information, as well as providing visual and possibly IR video with zoom. DAUs include batteries with optional recharge systems such as small solar panels or wind turbines and may include voice communication capability. Transmitted data is correlated with location and orientation by the system for direct graphic display on a map at the MSs. MS operators may adjust various DAU parameters such as viewing direction, angle, and zoom of cameras or frequency or type of information being supplied. Microprocessor control at the DAUs may automatically change transmission frequency or style when certain events occur, e.g. images may flash or beeping may occur when embers are flying over or flames become visible, when a voice communication is being attempted, or local temperature conditions recommend or require that the DAU enter an optional protected mode. The DAUs are built from durable temperature and weather resistance materials such as metals, ceramics, glass or quartz (for windows), aramids and other insulating materials, & reflective shielding. During extreme conditions the WH may be automatically retracted into a protective housing which may include not only reflective shielding and insulating materials but also water jackets (water filled pockets) to provide additional survival time (boil off time) for sensitive electronic components while a fire is passing by.
Prior to the RIM Fire, during late 2013, wildfire position and movement information was primarily reported verbally by firefighters on the ground or from aircraft. Some visual images were also gathered but were often not current by the time commanders and analysts were trying to make use of them. General weather conditions are reported by NOAA but no consistent on the ground, in the canyon, on the hill top information, particularly wind, has been generally available. At the RIM fire, a predator drone was used to provide real time visual and infrared images of portions of the fire with great effect. The cost of the predator was on the order of $25,000 per hour. Manned flights cost $100s/hr. and are only usable under certain conditions and for short durations. There have been proposals to make small drones for observing fires but costs remain high and general usage presenting logistical difficulties. Firefighters cost more than $500/day and cannot always be safely located to gather and provide timely information. The RTWS system is estimated to cost between $500-$2500/DAU depending on the features included with some additional cost going to software development, networking equipment, and MSs. A national wireless system for communication needs of the fire service has been proposed, called D-Block, and if it comes into existence the RTWS system may make use of its capabilities but in the meantime other wireless systems may be used. From a usefulness perspective, DAUs provide the great benefit of continuous information gathering during the fire and they can be moved or additional DAUs can be placed as the fire moves. From a cost perspective, DAUs are generally reusable much as other firefighting equipment is reusable. In summary, the RTWS system provides a cost effective solution to a real and growing need for more effective, less expensive, and safer fighting of wildfires through enhanced information gathering, processing, and delivery.