Monday, October 30, 2017

New Study the First to Map Escape Routes for Firefighters from the Air

Mapped potential escape routes.  Photo: Michael Campbell

Before battling the flames, firefighters identify areas where they can retreat, and designate the best escape routes to get from the fire line to those safety zones. Currently firefighters make these decisions on the ground, using expert knowledge of fire behavior and assessing their ability to traverse a landscape. Recently, a University of Utah-led study has developed a mapping tool that coud one day help fire crews make crucial safety decisions with and eagle's eye view. 

The new study is the first attempt to map escape routes for wildland firefighters from an aerial perspective. The researchers used Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to analyze terrain slop, ground surface roughness and vegetation density in a fire-prone region of Utah. The study also addressed how each landscape condition impeded a person's ability to travel. 

The study used volunteers to time themselves walking along paths that the researchers designed to capture a variety of slopes, ground surface roughness, and vegetation densities. Photo: Michael Campbell.

"Firefighters have a great sense for interactions between fire and landscape conditions. We hope to offer them an extra tool using information collected on a broad scale," says lead author Michael Campbell, doctoral candidate in the University of Utah's Department of Geography. 

By plugging in the effect of slope, ground surface roughness and vegetation density on travel rates into a route-finding algorithm, Campbell successfully identified the most efficient routes for thousands of simulations.

Currently, firefighters base their decisions on ground-level information using fire safety protocols such as the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG). These guidelines recommend avoiding steep slopes, dense vegetation and rough ground when designating an escape route.  

"Using LiDAR information, we were able to turn it from these subjective judgement calls into something more robust and quantitative," adds Campbell. 

The Cohesive Strategy supports the use of emerging technology like this that can help make the firefighting effort safer, more efficient and more effective.  


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