Insitu Debuts ScanEagle3 at Xponential 2018

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Insitu Debuts ScanEagle3 at Xponential 2018

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Insitu Debuts ScanEagle3 at Xponential 2018

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Unmanned Systems have challenged the notion of “possible” since the industry was born circa World War I. Like our agile industry, Insitu has changed and grown constantly since our inception in the early 1990s. Though we have outgrown the garage from which our first UAVs were produced, our passionate team strives to embody the original entrepreneurial spirit, ethics and vision that our founders established two decades ago and continue to drive our innovation and vitality today and onward.

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Blog

Top 5 Reasons to Use Drones for Fire Suppression

By Paul Allen, Key Account Manager, Emergency Services

Using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in support of disaster response has been, and continues to be, a learning experience for the unmanned industry. The past few months were extremely busy for our commercial group as we traveled around the country helping with response efforts for Hurricane Harvey and fighting wildfires in Northern California and Oregon. While we dread these events, we appreciate the humbling opportunity to be able to minimize damage and provide help for communities that are impacted by hurricanes, floods, wildfires and more.

Several new technologies emerged to support disaster response this summer, and UAS played a significant role in protecting threatened communities. I’d like to take a step back and discuss some lessons we have learned.

Below are the top five benefits we saw from using drones to help fight wildfires.

  1. Safety first
  2. I’ll state the obvious first. The fire suppression community gathers intelligence on fires in many ways, such as National Infrared Operations (NIROPS) via manned aircraft or through reports from Field Observers. These options place human lives in proximity to (or directly above) the heat of a raging wildfire, making it a risky task to gather intelligence. Providing the option to collect infrared imagery and other fire mapping data via an unmanned aerial vehicle keeps those that would otherwise be collecting data out of harm’s way and frees them up to assist with other aspects of fighting the fire. This solution allows incident management teams to maintain situational awareness and make informed decisions based on near-real-time imagery.
  3. Time is of the essence
  4. When wildfires tear through cherished communities and forests, there is little time to spare. While NIROPS units and Field Observers do great work, they are both limited by the amount of ground they can cover in a given period of time, as well as by the inherent delay between data collection and dissemination of that data to incident commanders. The right UAS for the job will collect, process and disseminate valuable information to an incident commander in near real-time, allowing decisions to be made with the most up-to-date information available.
  5. Smokey conditions and nighttime operations
  6. Every forest fire is unique. In 2015 we conducted a proof-of-concept operation over the Paradise Fire in the Olympic National Park in Washington State. The smoke produced by this fire was fairly localized to the areas that were actually burning. In contrast, the Eagle Creek Fire that we responded to this summer in the Columbia River Gorge, produced such extensive amounts of smoke that several businesses and schools were forced to close due to dangerous air quality. It goes without saying that the visibility was extremely limited during these operations. There are many types of manned aircraft that fly over fires to provide different types of support – these can include helicopters, fixed-wing air tankers and fixed-wing air attack aircraft. In smoky conditions and at night, these manned aerial assets are grounded due to the hazardous combination of thick smoke and dark skies. UAVs provide value due to their obvious advantage – they don’t require a pilot, and therefore have different operational freedoms. When manned aircraft are grounded, Incident Commanders are negatively impacted in their ability to make decisions due to a limitation for when they can gather comprehensive intelligence on fires. Drones, on the other hand, fly easily at night and in smoke. Our team flew ScanEagle over multiple fires this summer, with the majority of our flight hours occurring during the night.
  7. Flying over a forest
  8. Wildfires often burn across vast expanses and in remote locations where runways are not available. For this reason, the fire suppression community requires a UAS that is able to launch and recover within a small space and with minimal footprint. Once the drone is in the air, that vehicle must have the range and endurance to fly for several hours and cover extremely large distances. To put this in perspective, our longest flight during the Eagle Creek Fire was 12.9 hours – though we could have flown longer if it had been needed. When long endurance is coupled with long range, the UAS is ideally able to map the entire perimeter of the fire so that the Incident Management Team (IMT) can make decisions based on real-time infrared imagery of certain areas of the fire.
  9. Maps and real-time infrared imagery
  10. Up-to-date fire line maps are a critical tool for IMTs because they enable the Incident Commander to base decisions off near real-time information. As I explained above, an effective UAS will be able to utilize long range to fly over the entire fire in a timely manner. This capability paired with the right software and data processing tools enables that data to quickly be constructed into a map. The aircraft should then be able to continue its flight, shifting from a map-making mission to providing real-time infrared imagery over the fire. For example, during one specific flight this summer, an Incident Commander changed his direction for his team based on what he saw in our real-time video of the fire. His original plan had been to conduct back burns to keep the fire out of a canyon, however as he prepared to relay this tasking, he saw in our imagery that the canyon had already been overrun with flames. Instead of sending a team to a dangerous place where their efforts would be futile, he was able to redirect that team toward a more pertinent mission.

A season of learning

This past fire season has been one of learning for the unmanned industry, and has therefore afforded us the opportunity to grow. It’s been humbling for our team to provide support for the brave women and men who fight fires and respond to disasters, and we’ll continue to work on providing the best support for those teams.

Disaster Relief & Fire Suppression

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