Multi-agency Drone Task Force Deploys in the Aftermath of California Wildfires

A multi-agency task force of public safety drone teams has been supporting local agencies and residents impacted by California wildfires with high-resolution aerial imagery of damaged areas. GeoAcuity, a geospatial consulting firm, works alongside Law Enforcement UAS teams to rapidly process and build interactive maps from these critical UAS data sets. The teams have recently returned from back-to-back deployments for the
North Complex and the CZU Complex Fires. Public maps and video tutorial are available for viewing.

The 2020 wildfire season has been devastating for the West Coast of the United States, particularly for California. Historically large fire events driven by dry lightning storms, hot weather, and drought conditions resulted in the tragic loss of thousands of properties and dozens of lives.

In recent weeks, a task force consisting of law enforcement UAS (or drone) teams has deployed to back-to-back fires in northern California. UAS efforts have been at the request of local county agencies to quickly document and visualize the damaged areas. The task force is spearheaded by Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and included UAS teams from Contra Costa County and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, as well as San
Leandro and Stockton Police Departments.

While rogue drones have a poor reputation for impeding wildfire efforts, this UAS task force is a managed response that coordinates directly with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and CAL FIRE air operations to safely access and operate within these areas of restricted airspace. In many cases, UAS’s are able to fly and collect valuable post-incident imagery while crewed aircraft associated with fire suppression efforts are grounded due to low visibility.

With up to 15 teams of pilots flying at a time, these deployments need considerable coordination and generate massive amounts of imagery. GeoAcuity, a full-service geospatial consulting firm, has been leading the pre and post-flight mission coordination efforts as well as the data curation and delivery portions of these events. Their field team embeds with the Law enforcement UAS Teams to support and track data capture across fire zone.

All of the photos and video are then funnelled into interactive geospatial web applications and delivered to the requesting agencies and ultimately to the public.

Finished data products are typically delivered within 24-48 hours after the drones have landed, often while residents remain evacuated from impacted areas. Products include high-resolution 2D maps, 3D models, 360 panoramas, and geo-referenced video. Video tutorials are also created to educate non-technical users on the full features of the imagery and how to navigate the provided web map applications.

“The GeoAcuity team appreciates the opportunity to support these public safety efforts. Our primary focus is always the agencies and people impacted by these fires and we work hard to ensure rapid delivery of the post-disaster imagery that the law enforcement UAS teams have captured.” says Dr. Jason Knowles, CEO of GeoAcuity

The Butte County and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Offices have released the drone map layers publically for the North Complex Fire and the CZU Complex Fire. Their offices should be contacted for any questions on the drone efforts. Email [email protected] for technical questions about the data processing and GIS layers.

Map layers are best viewed on a desktop computer over a mobile device.
CZU Complex Fire (Santa Cruz Mountains)
 360 Panorama Map:
 Before/After Swipe Map:

North Complex Fire – Berry Creek
 360 Panoramas Map:
 Before/After Swipe Map:
 Survae video maps of major roads:

Further information about GeoAcuity can be found at . Interview requests can be made to [email protected]

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