Fighting fire with…data

There is evidence to support that 2023 may be the worst wildfire season ever recorded.  Earlier this year, there were over 1,140 active fires in Canada. And in August, the Hawaiian island of Maui suffered the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century with more than 110 fatalities thus far.

The first line of defense against fire isn’t water — it’s information

When the fire starts, it’ll be a while before anyone knows about it. At first, it’s just a spark from a fallen wire — or maybe the smoldering trunk of a tree, struck by lightning. If the fire is in a remote location, it may not be noticed for hours. Even if it’s noticed early, it’ll take precious minutes to raise the alarm and alert firefighters to the emergency. All the while, the fire, fed by the summer heat and a stiff wind, is growing more intense, devouring everything in its path: land, property, natural habitats, and all-too-often human lives. 

It’s literally true that every second counts. There’s no time to waste. Efficiency can be a matter of life and death. 

And in this situation, the most efficient first line of defense against fire isn’t water — it’s information. Think about it — you can’t put out a fire if you don’t know where it is or how to get there as quickly as possible.What’s more, timely access to data about past fires provides crucial insight into the conditions that make fires more likely, allowing firefighters and local populations to anticipate and prevent them before they occur.

On the front lines of the climate wars

History tells us that in 64 A.D., Rome burned for six days, and the only action its emperor Nero took as he watched his city incinerate was to play the fiddle.

Luckily, that won’t happen in Brazil.

Brumadinho-based Brigada Carcará is a non-profit on the front lines of the climate wars. Its mission is to control forest fires and to support communities affected by natural and environmental disasters. As increasingly frequent and intense fires blaze through Brazil’s subtropical zones, the Brigada’s role in preserving the lives and livelihoods of local residents, wildlife, farmers, and businesses, has become ever more critical — and ever more challenging.

Adding fuel to the fire

Until recently, Brigada’s challenges were aggravated by a total reliance on manual processes and offline record-keeping. It took many hours, and often several days, to compile data about the causes of fires, their locations, and the nature and extent of the damage done. 

None of this information was digitally stored or easily accessible to firefighters and local authorities – and the limited analog information that was available was often incomplete and vulnerable to human error. Lack of transparency and timely, reliable insights into the circumstances of forest fires made it exceedingly difficult to respond effectively to new fires, let alone to avert future outbreaks. And when a fire did break out, firefighters had to depend on old-fashioned printed maps to find their way to the source of the blaze. 

With the world around them literally burning, something had to change.

Fighting fire — there’s an app for that

Brigada Carcará turned to SAP to develop a dedicated platform to provide the tools they need to do their jobs with maximum efficiency — saving time, money, and, potentially, lives. A bespoke combination of SAP Integration Suite, based on SAP HANA, SAP Analytics Cloud, and SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) did much more than merely digitize their existing firefighting operation — it provided them with an arsenal of new and powerful tools to predict where fires are likely to break out.

Brigada Carcará’s SAP solution has dramatically increased operational efficiency, supercharging their capacity to predict and respond to fires. The lynchpin is a new mobile application that facilitates detailed and accurate digital documentation of fire-related damage in real-time, including up-to-date digital maps and geo-tagged photo uploads. It also captures precise information about damage to property, land, and habitats. Not only does the new system capture more information — that information is far more reliable, up-to-date, and easily accessible.

Lucas Romário Lara, a founding member of the Brigada Carcará, described the transformative impact of their new solutions: “The platform revolutionized our service structure, generating crucial real-time data for monitoring and analysis. We can now manage everything through our phones, from extinguishing fires, documenting burnt areas, identifying injured animals, and capturing images, to requesting immediate support from other teams. We can share data and best practices not only across the country but even with places like Portugal, which faces similar forest fire challenges.”

Digital fire retardant

Brigada Carcará notable tangible improvements include:

Enhanced fire prevention through improved monitoring and data analysis

Reduced incident recording time from three days to one minute

Structured reforestation plans driven by well-organized data for land and habitat protection

Rehabilitation and replanting of fire-affected forests, involving analysis of charred areas and tree remnants, along with native species cultivation in nurseries

Brigada member Ronnie Gibson sums it up quite nicely: “The SAP application has equipped us for better preparedness. Our reality has completely changed thanks to this technology.”

So it’s no surprise that Brigada Carcará is finalist for the 2023 SAP Innovation Awards. Read more about Brigada Carcará’a remarkable transformation here.

Digital Transformation