Wildfire Prevention Technology

Can Drones Make the Difference?
Wildfire 20 Image 1 png
17 Feb 2022

There were 50,477 in 2019.

58,950 in 2020.

And 58,985 in 2021.

Those figures refer to the number of wildfires that took place in each respective year and accumulatively account for 21,912,343 acres of American land that was burned through.

There are many things that can start a wildfire; with anything from a freak lightning strike to a

negligently discarded cigarette being the root cause of a blaze – neither of which, in those cases, are easy to counteract.

Today, however, we’re going to talk about one of the causes that is preventable. One that so often is responsible for the most ferocious fires: badly maintained powerlines and their surrounding shrubbery.

The unlikely hero in this story against a tyrant so strong is the comparatively simple drone. Read our blog to learn how they can make the difference.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Using drones to fight wildfires is nothing new. In fact, The US Department of Interior – the national body that protects America’s natural resources – adopted drones as a part of their wildfire fighting programme more than a decade ago.

In times gone by, they combined the unique aerial prowess of drones with thermal imaging technology to help map the area of existing fires and deduce which direction it was spreading based on the resulting data.

However, one of the issues with this approach is that the fire in question must first start and then garner significant traction before it can be identified and put out.

Even today, most fires are reported by civilians or airplane pilots – a spotty approach that can lead to fires going on for hours, and in some cases, days before resources are mobilized.

None of this is helped by the devastating presence of global warming which increases the likelihood and regularity with which wildfires begin. Using methods such as the above is like entering a battle that is already lost.

At Cyberhawk, we try to deal with the blaze before an ember can ignite.

While drone-based inspections are new to the utility industry, Cyberhawk are proving drones to be a critical asset in fire mitigation programs. By quickly inspecting conductor clamps, insulator fittings, split pins and other integral infrastructure components for defects, repairs can be prioritized and carried out quickly. With digital eyes in the sky, pilots can see other hazards such as encroaching vegetation, dangerous campfires and other issues that pose threats to people and the grid. With such binding evidence, it's easy to see why drones are being touted as the perfect piece of wildfire prevention technology.

Powerline inspection Damaged Earthwire jpg

Incredible Benefits

Before the inception of drone-based inspections, there were only two options for power grid maintenance:

Linesmen on foot: This option is not only dangerous but incredibly slow. Unlike drone-based inspections, where faults can be identified quickly and repairs prioritized based on need, any defects found are dependent wholly on how quickly the on-foot inspector can navigate across miles of terrain or the linesmen can climb a lofty tower – this is irresepctive of how urgent the fix may be. Where a drone could quickly and easily spot a wildfire hazard and identify it for repair, a linesman could be miles away if they were to inspect the same line of towers.

Helicopter: A fast but environmentally disastrous option for utility providers. In this instance, the drone’s battery pack CO2 emissions pale in comparison to that of the helicopter’s enormous gas tank. Equally, providers had to factor in the unthinkable cost of running and flying a series of helicopters across the combined seven million miles of transmission and distribution lines that make up the American grid.

Drone-based inspections suffer from none of these issues and with the help of cloud-based technology and data visualization, can capture incredibly detailed footage of assets and rapidly forward the findings on to providers through innovative digital solutions like iHawk.

Did you know? Approximately 2,000,000 California
properties were at high to extreme risk of exposure to wildfires in 2021.

GO 95

Of all the states ravaged by wildfires, California is the one that's most affected. It’s no small surprise that their legal infrastructure is one of the most stringent regarding overhead line compliance for that reason.

General Order 95 — or GO 95 — is the utility code for overhead line construction in California. Designed by the California Public Utilities Commission, it provides a set of rules that utility providers must abide by legally or be penalized.

The five main points of the rule state that a utility must:
• Take responsibility for their own assets by regularly inspecting them.
• Inform third-party companies when the original provider's asset directly affects a third-party's asset.
• Notify third-party providers or companies should a fault or hazard be discovered while inspecting their own asset.
• Act on any notification received from a third-party company that informs them of a hazard relating to their own asset.
• Keep a clear and detailed record of all inspections that have been conducted of their assets for at least ten years.

Levels of safety classifications include:
• Level 0 or Safety Hazard: A condition that poses significant threat to human life.
• Level 1: An immediate risk of high potential impact to safety or reliability.
• Level 2: Any other risk of at least moderate potential impact to safety or reliability.
• Level 3: Any risk of low potential impact to safety or reliability.

GO 95 is an incredibly important ruling and it is imperative that engineers from drone visual inspection companies are well-versed in the order and can help utilities ensure compliance.

The Time is Now

As the Earth’s soaring temperature continues to aggravate the problem of rising wildfires, the onus is on utility providers now to act and catch potential issues before they become disastrous.

When choosing how best to tackle the problem, it’s important to consider, not only how quickly a line can be inspected, but how safe it is to do so and how actionable the findings are.

Does the provider’s choice offer a scalable solution dependent on the job at hand?

Do they have extensive experience surveying utilities' mission-critical assets?

Do they have world-class pilots, inspection engineers and highly skilled in-house software developers?

It is imperative, now more than ever, that providers come to the right conclusion. The integrity of the grid and peoples’ lives depend on it.

Interested in learning how we can support your project?

Download your free power grid capabilities overview pack now!