Drone Image
A drone being used in wildfire response operations is seen flying at the Dixie fire in Northern California in August 2021. Software developed by the STEReO project for coordinating multiple parts of a fire response could be used on a tablet in the field, much like this pilot is using today’s commercially available software. (Credits: National Park Service/Joe Suarez)

NASA’s Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations, or STEReO , project is designing software and communication tools to help disaster responders work more safely and efficiently. Part of their approach is to scale up the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones.

Drones are good for capturing thermal images of the landscape below. The heat signatures obtained can help determine where firefighters should establish fire-containment lines, dug either by bulldozer or by hand.

On the frontlines of the California wildfires, a drone was sent to look for any traces of fire down a steep gully. The thermal data it collected helped decide whether crews could safely attempt to hold the fire there, or if they should work from the next ridgeline, even if it meant losing more acres to the flames.