A FreeFly Systems Alta X drone is seen in flight under the control of Jonas Jonsson, pilot in command for STEReO, the Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations project, at NASA's Ames Research Center, as part of STEReO test activities, (Pic: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

A project by NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has tested its tools in a realistic wildland firefighting exercise to help make the battle against wildfires faster, safer, and more targeted.

The Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations project (STEReO) aims to create a system that can be deployed during emergencies to co-ordinate multiple elements of disaster response. These may include aircraft, teams on the ground, and data collected from the air.

In early May, the project’s partners at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the US Forest Service flew wildfire-fighting aircraft in co-ordination with NASA drones, using STEReO’s system to keep all parties informed of ongoing operations.

Dialogue with the wildfire management community continued in mid-May, with a workshop hosted by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, in collaboration with the Space Technology and Science Mission Directorates. The workshop identified specific challenges facing stakeholders, from prediction and detection of wildfire to mitigation and remediation efforts after a fire.

It also highlighted the need for persistent surveillance of wildfire-prone areas and near real-time data streams in support of actions. Better co-ordination and data sharing across all levels of government, along with artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, were also considered necessary. This input aims to inform potential NASA contributions and collaborations to improve wildfire management.

The NASA event attracted diverse groups involved in wildfire management, including the US Air Force, US Forest Service, US Geological Survey, National Guard, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the firefighter community, industry and academia.