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Copenhagen Fire Brigade benefits from drone support

By embracing new technology, Copenhagen Fire Brigade has secured a tactical overview within a few minutes of arrival at the scene of a catastrophic situation. Recently, they added drone support to their repertoire of advanced gear and are already taking advantage of the many possibilities that the drones provide.

With the dual mounted camera the Huginn X1 UAV, made by the Danish company Sky-Watch, is capable of taking high-resolution images and thermal imagery at the same time, making it possible to navigate both day and night. The thermal imagery also provides a unique opportunity to locate victims and fire faster than ever.

A sprouting idea
In 2013 Copenhagen Fire Brigade launched a new project in cooperation with the University of Southern Denmark to implement drone support in their daily disaster management. Drones have the ability to create a great situational overview fast, which is essential when saving lives in burning buildings. “They imagined a drone that could navigate within burning buildings, searching for entrapped victims” – says Thomas Sylvest, Fire Captain and drone operator at Copenhagen Fire Brigade. “Quickly though, we agreed that it would take years before such technology would be ready. Instead we focused on situational overview and thermal imagery”. That is exactly what is needed when dealing with roof fires or complex structures, for instance a school or large enterprise. They are often at a scale, which makes it very hard to cover the whole area and to maintain situational overview. This can be remedied by the use of drones. The Huginn X1 UAV has an operational flight time of 25 minutes and can carry both HD and thermal camera at the same time. The thermal camera enables the possibility to monitor the fire’s progress, to determine whether the building’s safety precautions withstands or to spot hazardous skylights and preventing potential fall risks. Thomas explains – “We have had a firefighter who got killed when he fell through a skylight. He was not aware of its existence but now we have to ability to spot them before it is too late”.

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What the future may hold
High-definition and thermal imagery is only the beginning. As the UAV technology gets more stable, the focus will shift to what real-time information the platform can provide. There is no doubt about the platform’s advantages, but how can the potential be exploited? Thomas has an idea – “It would be great to minimize the use of personnel when dealing with chemical accidents for an example. A drone equipped with chemical or asbestos detection sensors would greatly reduce the major risks associated with these types of incidents”. As of now, the Huginn X1 is one of the few UAVs in the world with a basic analog chemical detection accessory kit. It uses Chameleon chemical cassettes, by Morphix Technologies, to detect a given airborne chemical within the area. Sky-Watch is already looking into a digital solution, so that the information would be streamed in real-time to the control unit and Navigator. “In the future it will be the data collected by the UAV that will be interesting and not the UAV platform itself – different sensors, which collect data and the afterwards data processing” – Thomas continuous. At the moment, Thomas and the Copenhagen Fire Brigade has developed a solution to stream the live video feed from the drone to their emergency center and incident command vehicle. A solution that makes it possible for a third party expert far away to assist the Incident Leader in his difficult decision-making. It is essential to have the right information at hand when high-risk decisions have to be made. By enabling the possibility to have specialist from all over the world look at the specific situation contributes to time-, life- and cost-saving operation handling, regardless which kind of disaster the fire brigade may encounter.

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Safety and insurance
Around the world, governments face a lag of UAV regulations, as this type of flying aircrafts have not been dealt with before in such a large scale. The consequences can often be seen when individuals fly their private drones and causes near-collision accidents with commercial airplanes. In Denmark, Sky-Watch is proactive on developing regulations and is working together with UAS Denmark on dealing with this unfortunate trend. Sky-Watch offers a two and half day training course ending with a test and certificate upon satisfactory completion along with product liability insurance. “As a UAV developer and manufacturer we believe that we hold a certain responsibility that our products first of all performs as promised, but we also have to ensure that all possible safety precautions regarding user, product and environment has been made.” –says Jonas Dyhr Johansen, Vice President at Sky-Watch. He continuous – “We take pride in knowing that our products has been tested worldwide by various applications and that with all our products follows liability for the benefit of the users”.

Copenhagen Fire Brigade believes that education and regulations is the correct path to go. They are self-insured and cooperating with the Danish Transport Authority and the Danish Emergency Management Agency on collecting the right information for producing regulations. Thomas elaborates – “We are currently looking into putting a joint First Responder Drone Education together, which will be mandatory for flying within emergency management auspices”.

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In-action
Thomas Sylvest is currently the only drone operator at Copenhagen Fire Brigade, as it is still a trial project. For the time being, UAVs are not a standard unit on the emergency vehicles. In the trail period drones have been used 13 times when Thomas were on watch anyway. “It only shows that they could have been used 130 times, if they were standard equipment as well as a fire hose. It all depends on which direction the organization wants to follow…” – states Thomas, as it has not yet been determined whether drones should be on watch 24/7.

On the night of august 8th 2014 the alarm sounded, sending 30 firefighters and 11 emergency vehicles to the exhibition center Bella in Copenhagen. Flames covered the rooftop of the large exhibition halls and heavy smoke quickly covered the skies. Within few hours, the firefighters got hold of the fire and secured the incident from spreading to other halls or the Bella Sky hotel. The Huginn X1 UAV were used in this case to cover the accident from the air, providing vital live footage from the huge fire devastating potential thousands of square feet. By using the Huginn X1, the Copenhagen Fire Brigade was able to cover a large area within minutes multiple times and keep pace with the development of the fire.

With the Bella Center incident, the cost-, time- and life-saving potential of the use of UAS within firefighting is clear. It is only a matter of embracing end evolving the UAS technology.

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Company profile
With headquarter in Denmark, Sky-Watch has since 2009 developed, manufactured and implemented high-tech solutions for real-time decision making in complex environments worldwide. Sky-Watch’s R&D competencies encompasses unmanned systems, advanced embedded control software, integrated industrial design and intuitive user interfaces. “The needs of our end-users are what inspire and define our product development. This is why our systems not only saves time and reduce costs, but also save lives. Our ability to create autonomous systems that can operate in very difficult environments differentiate Sky-Watch from other players in the market.” – says Vice President, Jonas Dyhr Johansen. In close cooperation with key partners in their respective markets, Sky-Watch has the ability to deliver state-of-the-art sensor technology with optimal user friendliness. A technology and user friendliness that has been tested worldwide in various situations, from SAR operations after the typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines to counter-poaching missions in South Africa.

The UAV platform Huginn X1 supports many different applications and is only limited by your imagination. You concentrate on saving lives while the Huginn X1 concentrates on flying and bringing you essential information for you to make the right decisions.

For further information, go to www.sky-watch.dk

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Thomas Posborg Nielsen is Communication and Media Manager at Sky-Watch A/S.

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