RFID Scanning for Fires

E-mail Melanie Martella

Here on the east coast the weather is dank and damp and getting colder. For our antipodean friends in Australia, however, summer is just beginning and with the summer heat comes the threat of forest fires. A new take on RFID may give the firefighters a quicker way to spot blazes.

Tagging Fires When They Start
A recent RFID Journal article discusses a new RFID-based sensor which sits on utility poles (or other handy features) and measures the ambient temperature. Should the temperature reach a predetermined setting, the device powers up its active RFID tag, which then sends an alert to an RTU up to 300 m away. The RTU checks the sensors ID against its internal list and then sends a message to a contact person's cell phone. Telepathx, the company behind the VRF sensor, specializes in wireless and other communications.

This latest endeavor was actually the result of customer feedback on an earlier product, the Firesighter system, that was launched in 2004. This system was intended to alert utility companies to damage to their poles. The utilities really wanted something that'd give them a better early warning not just of fires ?but of damage to their equipment. As Telepathx's CEO and founder James Eades says in the article, "As it turns out, the apparatus on the utility poles, such as the insulators, transformers, fuses and cables, fail with some regularity. And they are also a significant bushfire ignition source that eventually burns thousands of hectares per year—and that's just in the state of Victoria."

GPS + Sensors
The article also mentions a similar system from the University of California, Berkeley. The FireBug is a GPS-enabled wireless thermal sensor intended to provide real-time information on fire location and movement. By coupling GPS with wireless sensor motes you get the same kind of real-time, location-specific data that gives the firefighters a much clearer idea of what's happening on the ground. The better the starting picture, the better they can predict what the fire might do next, allowing them to place resources and personnel more efficiently and evacuate more intelligently.

The Bottom Line
There's a lot of dry vegetation out there and between idiots who like to start fires and tragic accidents, that adds up to a lot of fires in troublesome terrain. Identifying the location of a fire and getting a clear picture of exactly where it is and what it's doing is absolutely vital to control it. We're never going to get rid of forest or other wild fires and, frankly, we don't want to—they're an important part of our ecosystem. We just want to make sure we don't get cooked when they happen.

Got any interesting fire stories? Let us know, scroll on down to the bottom of the page and post a comment!

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