2009 Interagency Partnership Mid-Continent
The Wildfire Research and Applications Partnership (WRAP) is a joint effort between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the USDA Forest Service to explore innovative technologies to improve remote sensing observations of fire events. Agencies involved in this cooperative effort include NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Dryden Research Center, the USDA Forest Service Remote Sensing Application Center, the National Interagency Fire Center, and the Federal Aviation Administration. The technology transfer successes of WRAP are the result of an innovative technical and scientific team structure that marries fire management personnel with science and engineering team members from NASA, academia, and industry. The Tactical Fire Remote Sensing Advisory Committee (TFRSAC), chaired by partners from the U.S. Forest Service, discusses and highlights critical wildfire observational technology and knowledge gaps. The group engages NASA, academia, and industry to design new solution sets to fill those gaps within that disaster management community. This partnership group has been highly successful in maturing, demonstrating, and integrating NASA-derived capabilities in sensor system design, telecommunications systems, image-processing algorithm development, intelligent systems design, inter-sensor systems coordination (sensor-web), and data visualization capabilities. Because of this unique partnership between wildfire personnel and technologists, wildfire management agencies are better poised to reduce wildfire losses and expenditures. During missions in summer 2008, a remotely piloted aircraft carrying a NASA sensor flew over much of California in early July, gathering information that helped to fight more than 300 wildfires burning in the state. The unmanned Ikhana aircraft made multiple flights across the state, scanning the terrain for hot spots and flareups. In one case, the Ikhana flew over a region of Butte County and discovered a hot spot near the town of Paradise. This led to the entire population of 10,000 being put under a mandatory evacuation.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates unmanned aircraft flights within the nation’s airspace. The agency has been able to quickly approve NASA’s flight plans for the Ikhana and other unmanned aircraft without compromising the safety of any other aircraft in the air. The cooperation between the FAA and NASA, developed and matured in 2006, has extended through the 2007 and 2008 fire seasons. The FAA processes flight plans in an extremely timely manner, thus allowing the team to mobilize its flight assets quickly in response to changing fire conditions.