Resource Tracking and Mesh Communications Pilot Project Tested by Caldor Fire


Sample satellite location reporting data, Caldor Fire, September 2021. Image courtesy of the Dingell Act Resource Tracking (DART) team.

In September, during the final stages of the Caldor Fire that burned approximately a quarter of a million acres near South Lake Tahoe, Calif., An interagency team conducted an pilot deployment common image localization and exploitation technologies. They tested three different systems that track equipment mounted on vehicles or carried by personnel. They also evaluated a real-time video shot by an airplane and made instantly available to firefighters. Other pilot projects were conducted on the Tussock Fire in Arizona in May and the Tamarack Fire that burned from California to Nevada in July.

These two categories of information make up what we have called the holy grail of wilderness firefighter safety – knowing the real-time location of the fire and the firefighters. Dozens, if not more, of firefighters have been killed while this information was not known. If you think of firefighter traps, a lot could have been avoided if, for example, the team leader, division supervisor or safety officer had access to this real-time situational awareness information.

Monitoring of fire resources

The law adopted on March 12, 2019 addressed this issue. The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act mandated that the * five federal land management agencies “jointly develop and operate a tracking system to remotely locate fire resource positions for use by wildland firefighters, including, at a minimum, all fire resources assigned to firefighters. federal type 1 forest fire management teams “, due before March 12, 2021.

BLM Tracker
Tracker (white box) installed on the BLM engine. BLM photo.

The Bureau of Land Management has installed hardware for location-based services (LBS) which are now operational on more than 700 fire trucks, crew transports and support vehicles. Vehicle position and usage data is displayed visually through a web portal or mobile device app.

“The LBS system has been implemented throughout the program and used successfully in fire year 2021 by forest fire managers and dispatchers to display near real-time locations of firefighting vehicles. against the BLM fire, ”said Jessica Gardetto, BLM’s chief external officer. “The system and its viewer are used more and more, especially as LBS data is visible in the Enterprise Geospatial Portal (EGP). EGP is widely used in dispatch centers and by fire officials to display information about forest fires visible to multiple agencies and accessible to all cooperators. “

The US Forest Service is thinking about it.

“Based on the results of these pilot programs, strategies are being prepared for the adoption of tracking units for all incident vehicles owned or operated by agencies and interagency peak teams,” said Stanton Florea, fire communications specialist for the forest service.

We asked the Forest Service if it had installed monitoring units, and if so how many, and did not receive a response by publication.

Real-time mapping or video

A requirement of Dingell’s Law was that before September 12, 2019 was to “… develop coherent protocols and plans for the use of unmanned aircraft systems technologies in forest fires, including for the development of real-time maps of the location of forest fires. “

The first part of the requirement appears to have been largely met, Mr Florea told Wildfire Today, with interagency policies, Certificates of Authorization (waivers) with the FAA, and NWCG Standard Procedures for Using UAS on incidents.

We asked Ms. Gardetto about the state of real-time mapping. She said the agency has developed plans and protocols for real-time mapping processes, “but they remain limited by connectivity in remote locations. Real-time mapping capability is dependent on the availability of technology and subsequent deliverables, although, again, real-time mapping services by UAS are not typically requested by incident management teams or personnel. fire management.

If the service does not exist, it is unlikely that a firefighting resource will request it during an incident.

We asked the US Forest Service about the status of providing real-time mapping to firefighters in the field and did not receive a response at the time of posting.

Results of the pilot deployment on the Caldor fire

The pilot deployment on the Caldor Fire Common operating imaging technologies have shown that the technology exists, and it’s about selecting the hardware and support systems that can make the information available to firefighters.

It’s impressive from a technological point of view. The three tracking systems they worked with were:

  • Everywhere Hub devices: Garmin inReach® Mini and inReach® SE + send data to the Enterprise Geospatial Portal (EGP) for display in a variety of tracking systems.
  • Team Awareness Kit (TAK). A smartphone app that uses a phone’s GPS to track its user’s location and displays the locations of other TAK app users.
  • Vehicle trackers on BLM fire apparatus. Uses both cellular and satellite connections to send vehicle position to EGP.

On the Caldor fire, a military aircraft with Distributed Real-Time Infrared Program (DRTI) was also deployed and provided fire officials with the only source of live aerial video. DRTI is a collaboration between the US Forest Service and the Air National Guard. This program provides real-time intelligence to fire officials using Air National Guard RC-26 aircraft equipped with thermal infrared cameras and high-resolution visible light. These planes transmit a live video feed of forest fires to National Guard soldiers on the ground, who can receive the video on a ROVER portable military radio and display it on a tablet or TV screen for officials to use. fires can see her.

Video and TAK data stream, Caldor Fire
The DART team.

Devices were issued over the eastern area of ​​the Caldor blaze, which hosted the pilot by the Dingell Act Resource Tracking (DART) team. DARD also carried out a pilot project deployment of common location technologies and operational images to the Tamarack fire in northern California and Nevada in July 2021.

DART focused on distributing Everywhere Hub devices to specific divisions in the east area of ​​the Caldor fire with the goal of saturating areas of the line of fire, ensuring that as many resources as possible possible in areas to be monitored. A total of 185,382 position reports were received during the 14-day DART deployment to the Caldor fire.

Elon Musk’s Starlink System

Starlink satellite antenna providing internet service on the Caldor Fire.  BLM photo.
Starlink satellite antenna providing internet service on the Caldor Fire. BLM photo.

New technologies used included Starlink, a system developed by an Elon Musk company to eventually provide Internet connectivity to virtually anywhere in the world via a 23-inch satellite dish. (There is a newer version which is smaller and lighter, 12 x 19 inches weighing just 9.2 pounds.) The dish has been tested by DART as a means of providing high speed, low latency internet service to remote areas of the Caldor fire . They also used a Jagwire server, which broadcasts the live video feed from the aircraft to firefighters over the cellular internet, and the Android Team Awareness (ATAK) kit with an Unmanned Air System (UAS) tool plug-in. . Speeds of 100-200mbps down and 30mbps up have been found on the Starlink Dish.

* Five federal land management agencies involved in wildfires are the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildfires for 33 years, he continues to learn and strives to be a fire student. View all articles by Bill Gabbert


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