Case: control wildfires on fire flights

Group video sharing service broadcasts live video from the sky to the control center.

“The experience with the national authority video sharing service in Finland has been excellent,” says Mr Mika Kurvinen, Senior Rescue Inspector at the Northern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI).

Without reconnaissance, forest fires would spread to many sparsely populated areas.

Surveillance flights for forest fires are normally conducted in Finland from the beginning of May to the end of August – and the flight season can be extended if the situation so requires. Surveillance flights aim to detect outbreaks before they spread.

In the past, the flight observer could only describe what they saw. Now, the new Group video-service provided by Finnish National Network operator Erillisverkot Group allows to obtain live video from the sky to the rescue service in a secured and controlled manner.

“The experiences with the service are excellent. The feedback from the field shows that the system is easy to use, and the implementation of the service has gone well everywhere with a brief introduction,” says Mr Kurvinen.

The agency manages and directs the flight surveillance of forest fires throughout Finland: the occurrence of fires is monitored on a total of 22 flight routes. Sightseeing flights are performed by aviation clubs and companies that have entered into an agreement with AVI Northern Finland.

According to Mr Kurvinen, 9 rescue services set out to test the Group video sharing service in the spring of 2020 on a pilot basis. AVI (Finnish FAA) acquired the devices and service for the plane operators.

“For years, the authorities have experienced the need of a secured, real-time imaging system. The interest was strong, so we asked the rescue services if they wanted to join the experiment. The service has been extremely useful so far, thus we plan to expand its use soon.”

Rapid response and situational awareness also save money. One burned hectare of forest costs thousands of euros, and fires that have spread can also sweep away other people’s property.

One picture says more than a thousand words

Without reconnaissance, forest fires would spread to many sparsely populated areas. Mr Kurvinen says that the hot summer of 2018 has been the busiest in the sky so far: a record number of 1,407 fire flights were flown by fire control flight operators in Finland at that time. At that time, 376 fires were detected on flights and rescue units were instructed 116 times.

Before the fire flight, the pilot and the observer check the drought index defined by the Finnish Meteorological Institute, which automatically arrives at the air base as a text message when the take-off index is exceeded. The forest fire index is expressed on a scale of 0 to 6: a flight may take off when it exceeds the limit of 4.1 or 4.3. Normally, there is one flight per day. When the forest fire index rises to an alarmingly high level, (i.e. over 5.4), the route requires two flights a day.

“The length of a flight route ranges from 300 to over 400 kilometers –it may take hours to get around one route, or longer if there is a need to detour twice. The summer of 2018 was a huge effort, with equipment and pilots at the extremes. The number of flights per year is completely dependent on the weather – in a normal summer there are about 300 flights.”

“The biggest benefit of the service is that it enables the creation of an even more comprehensive snapshot. The rescue service can be guided to the fire site with more precise and accurate information, ”says Mr Mika Kurvinen, chief rescue inspector from the Northern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency.

According to Mr Kurvinen, fire flights have an important preventive effect: forest fires are easier to detect from the sky. Small planes usually fly 600 to 900 meters high, and on the brightest day visibility can be up to a hundred kilometers in their direction.

“The biggest benefit of the Group video sharing service is that it allows you to create an even more comprehensive snapshot. As the saying goes: one picture says more than a thousand words. When the command center receives a real-time video, the rescue service can be guided to the fire site with more accurate information.”

Prompt response and holistic situation awareness save both the forest and firefighters’ working hours. One burnt hectare costs thousands of euros-and fires can sweep other people’s property as they go, damaging the climate.

Encrypted and secure communications

Detached Networks is developing a Group video sharing service together with the Tampere-based application house NSION Technologies: Customers’ defined specifications, feedback and solution proposals are listened to carefully, and technical updates are made to the application on a regular basis.

“Customers are able to utilize their standard commercial and government of the shelf equipment, and the system enables users to connect via standard internet and by Government provided Separate Network ensures their connectivity and full data security. The administrator of the customer organization acts as a contact person and manages the groups and users of their organization,” says Mr Kataja.

The group video service has been developed specifically for security-critical operators, and all its communications are encrypted and separated from public networks. The server machines are in closely monitored data centers in Finland.

“In the future, public authorities or other security-critical operators may use the group video service to transfer the moving image to other operators as well. A version of the service is being developed that will allow video sharing between different organizations. We provide a technical solution, and the authorities decide among themselves how they share data and information with each other.”