UAS and smartphone integration at wildfire management in Aotearoa New Zealand

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Brendon Christensen
David Herries
Robin J.L. Hartley
Richard Parker


applications (apps), “Drones”, smartphones, UAV, wildfire response


Background: From 2016, wildfire emergency response used Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) also known as Uninhabited or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Systems (UAS) or "drones" (hereafter UAS), smartphones and smartphone applications (apps) on-site, for the first time at scale in Aotearoa New Zealand (hereafter New Zealand). This study outlines the deployment and use of this new technology in monitoring at wildfires in New Zealand from 2016, and the conveyance of fire response information to operational personnel.

 Methods: A quantitative and qualitative questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews were used to gather feedback on the use of this emerging technology from wildfire management personnel. The results were analysed to determine perception change over time, using retrospective analysis. The issues presented, and the uptake by fire management and personnel for the incorporation of such technology at wildfires in New Zealand are discussed.

 Findings: The integration of UAS and visual, infrared/infrared-thermal (IR/TIR) sensors has been used at over ten wildfire management response incidents throughout New Zealand since 2016. The quantitative perception of use and benefit of information technology in wildfire management response improved from the initial viewpoints, from indifferent to strongly supportive, and supportive to strongly supportive for UAS and smartphone use, respectively. Qualitative analysis showed that both positive views on the new technology increased, and indifferent and negative views diminished substantially following exposure to its operational integration into wildfire management.

Conclusions: The use of technology such as UAS has gained support and currently offers the potential to increase safety and reduce suppression and mop-up costs. A reduction in the time taken for hotspot detection and management, combined with the ability to redeploy heavy-lift aircraft away from such tasks would lead to efficiencies in cost and resource utilisation. UAS as platforms for remote-sensing devices (such as cameras and laser scanners), and smartphone apps are now considered important tools for deployment at New Zealand wildfires by operational and Incident Management personnel. The adoption of any new systems or technology requires flexibility, especially in terms of management support, in which regular information, training and instruction should be considered crucial.

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