Researchers, such as those at the University of Montana, have started using drones for disaster response prediction—particularly forest fires. Drones can carry instruments to measure temperature, humidity, location, wind speed and direction.
Major utility companies are investigating how tools such as drones and artificial intelligence might help reduce the risk of future conflagrations and for inspection of infrastructure to help head off fire risk.
Emergency services in California have implemented the use of drones to help detect forest fires, which can provide insights into the type and amount of resources required on scene. Thermal detection sensors can be mounted onto a drone; these sensors use infrared radiation to help detect heat signatures allowing first responders to locate fire hotspots. These innovations can show where fires are most likely to spread.
Drones developed in partnership with the Department of Interior have been used in firefighting, particularly through controlled burning. During the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire in Colorado, a drone dropped small incendiary balls to ignite the canopy and create a more effective containment line and deny fuel for the wildfire.
Skyward and Verizon responded to the Big Hollow Fire by remotely deploying a drone connected over 4G LTE to monitor communications infrastructure, keep people connected, and monitor the progress of the fire without sending personnel into a potentially dangerous situation. Such an operation requires a strong safety case, a clear purpose, and explicit permission from the FAA.