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The Potential of Technology to Improve Natural Disaster Management in Finland

Forest fire

Filip Sever, Project Manager at Kajaani University of Applied Sciences

Recent forest fires in Finland’s neighbouring countries of Russia and Sweden have caused significant damage to private property, infrastructure, nature, and life. The warming climate causes long periods of drought in the vast, rural areas of northern Europe. Fire monitoring, great travel distances, sparse population, and limited access all pose challenges in prevention and mitigation of natural disasters. Following the recent wildfires that ravaged through northern Sweden in 2018, it showed that it was only a matter of time until a similar incident would befall Finland. 

In the summer of 2021, a forest fire broke out near the town of Kalajoki[1]. It required 250 persons daily, and four helicopters to battle the fire for over two weeks. The fire burned 227 hectares of land area. At the present, most technological solutions focus on communication and coordination solutions during emergencies and dissemination of incident information for policy development purposes. Few tools are available to monitor the field prior and during natural disasters, let alone provide a rich source of information to enhance the management of natural disaster operations.

The TEMA project will deploy remote and on-site sensors to provide information on the situation in the field and offer predictions to the end users to improve their decision-making during incidents. The timely arrival of the project provides the Kainuu Rescue Department – the local end users – with the opportunity to learn of the latest developments in natural disaster management with the newest technological approaches.

A part of Europe, that has historically seen significantly fewer fire incidents compared to the south of the continent, is becoming more susceptible to forest fires in the future due to climate change. To meet the rising risks head on, local emergency services are exploring ways to monitor and manage forest fire to mitigate the potential damages to nature, infrastructure, and life. 

Technology offers an opportunity to aid in addressing some of the challenges that this part of Europe faces – vast regions that are sparsely populates, with great travelling distance and limited accessibility. Through the use of the TEMA solutions, end users will receive information on how the fire will evolve, identify civilians that may need aid or evacuation, and offer recommendations on further actions to be taken.

The Finnish pilot will be centred on a forest fire outbreak in the Finnish region of Kainuu. Forest fire risk is classified by the Finnish Meteorological Institute using forest fire indexes, which in return informs the rescue services of areas in Finland that have certain risks of fire outbreaks[2]. As the index rises, the rescue services increase their preparedness level, increasing shifts and readiness to act. As a fire report comes in, the fire fighting team is dispatched to the scene, and the TEMA technologies start with data collection from the scene, providing the firefighters with information on the severity and behaviour of the fire. The firefighters utilise the information received and act accordingly to evacuate any citizens that are in danger and to extinguish the fire.

The Kainuu Rescue Department will organise two iterations of the pilot trial within the TEMA project, planned for the summer periods of 2025 and 2026. The project has recently developed the end user requirements and technical development has begun on the many components which will gather, analyse, and present the information from the field to the end users. At the same time, the Kainuu Rescue Department is preparing the pilot trial case and looking on how to utilize the many components in its trials to explore how best to benefit from the technologies for their work.