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Rugged Technology: The 12th man in the fight against wildfires

Science and technology have come together in the last few years to give heroes on the frontlines ways to fight fires smarter and harder

By Michael Cayes
Mooring Tech, Inc.

This article is provided by Mooring Tech, Inc. and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of FireRescue1.

As of 7:15 AM on August 6th, 2015, the Rocky Fire in northern California has burned over 69,000 acres of land. It is only 30% contained. Frustration and fear are mounting, and fire crews from multiple states are working around the clock to ensure that communities are protected, or at least safety evacuated. All four of the largest and most damaging fires in California’s history have happened since the year 2000. This is in line what is happening all over the United States. Wildfires are becoming more frequent, and they’re getting bigger and harder to contain. The Rocky Fire is one in what is shaping up to be a long line of fires this year; the need for new fire-fighting solutions, cooperation from the weather, and a little bit of luck grows every day.

Only one of those three things is within the realm of human control. Thankfully, science and technology have come together in the last few years to give heroes on the frontlines ways to fight fires smarter AND harder. In seasons of widespread drought such as the one the western United States is facing, emergency responders are pushed to their limits physically and mentally. They need equipment and software that will go to those limits with them.

The innovative technological solutions range from very simple to highly interactive and complicated. Cloud storage, which is already widely implemented in the consumer markets for personal data, is being embraced by fire departments to give firefighters access to data about previous fire patterns and current fire location and movement. As U.S. Forest Service employee Tim Sexton says, the cloud can save lives: “We could remotely look at the locations of firefighters in relationship to where the fire is …and perhaps anticipate movement of the fires before it reaches the crews. Sometimes it comes over a ridge, and the crews can’t see it coming.” The Forest Service is in the first stages of testing an unmanned drone plane fitted with infrared sensors; the plane remains aloft most of the day, periodically beaming scans of the fire’s movement to tablets or computers of crews on the ground.

The devices receiving these scans must be ruggedized. Taking a regular tablet into wildfire conditions would be largely ineffective. This is where innovative companies such as Panasonic have stepped in, and started producing rugged hardware that is heat-resistant, shock-resistant (up to 6’ depending on the model), and ultimately perfect for rugged people doing rugged jobs. These rugged tablets can be mounted easily in vehicles, and just as easily detached for use on-the-go. They can be fitted with detachable keyboards as needed for communication and data entry. The touch screen makes using imaging and mapping software fast and easy; zoom in, zoom out, examine the fire from a new angle, and do all of it with just a few simple movements of your fingers. Fighters on the front lines are finding new ways to use this technology all the time; each advance evens the playing field a little more in what’s sure to be a daunting wildfire season.