Simulation could mitigate wildfires

In the wake of fires devastating Greece, Dr Vassilios Vescoukis tells The Engineer Online how such disasters could be managed better by developments in advanced simulation and modelling technology

Future wildfires could be dealt with more effectively through developments in advanced simulation and modelling technology, claims Dr Vassilios Vescoukis, an assistant professor at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA).

Speaking in the wake of the forest fires near Athens, Vescoukis said that increasingly complex systems which combine simulation and monitoring tools could help emergency services prevent future ecological disasters on the scale witnessed in the region earlier this week.

‘The best possible reaction on behalf of the authorities can be largely assisted by technology,’ he said. ‘Failing to react best – or even worse, reacting the way we did during the last few days – can unfortunately optimise the damages instead of the response effectiveness, which is the case here.’

In support of his views, Vescoukis has been working alongside researchers at NTUA to develop fire-prevention technology as part of a government-funded Firementor project. This has resulted in the development of a system currently being used by a local authority in Greece. However, the team are keen to implement the technology throughout the country.

Vescoukis said: ‘The main concept is to exploit ICTs to improve forest-fire fighting. This is done by putting together spatial data, forest-fire simulation algorithms, operational logistics, monitoring tools and incident management, so as to create what we call an integrated forest-fire crisis-management system.

‘In practice, the authorities that use this system can prepare a number of disaster scenarios well ahead of time.’

The Firementor system is made up of a network of sensors, each consisting of a temperature-activated alarm and a wireless communication unit to transmit data on the distribution of temperature. The data gathered is used alongside a software package to provide information on how fast a fire will evolve, which routes it could follow, how many vehicles are required to fight the fire and where they should be located.

While the device has been successfully trialed, Vescoukis is aware that government support is needed to develop the software side of the package further – an area he believes fire management can benefit from the most.

‘If you want my opinion, the sensors will only be able to convey the alarm message as soon as a fire erupts… so in this case they don’t offer that much of a service,’ he said.

‘We need support to develop the software within the system. The technology is proven and as soon as the government provides more support and we have a large-scale installation of the system, then I believe the technology will progress rapidly.’

Ellie Zolfagharifard