In June 2017, Portugal experienced one of the most tragic forest fires in its history. The fire, which ignited on June 17, raged through the central region of the country, primarily in the municipality of Pedrógão Grande. It endured for several days, consuming an area spanning approximately 500,000 hectares, resulting in the destruction of numerous homes and leaving behind a trail of devastation.
In total, 64 lives were lost in the fire, with over 250 others sustaining injuries. This catastrophe triggered an outpouring of grief and support from across the globe. People rallied to provide financial assistance, food, and clothing to aid those affected by the fire, while many volunteered to contribute to the recovery efforts. The forest fires in Portugal served as a stark reminder of the perils of climate change and the urgent need for more robust measures to combat them. The heatwave that exacerbated the fire served as just one instance of extreme weather events becoming increasingly prevalent due to global warming.
Since that time, Portugal has taken proactive steps to enhance its forest management practices and bolster the resilience of its communities in the face of climate change impacts. Part of this revised strategy involves a renewed emphasis on Ciclope, a remote monitoring system for extensive areas. It is presently utilized by the National Republican Guard (GNR) and Civil Protection to prevent, promptly detect, and provide operational decision support for combating forest fires.
The Ciclope system, developed by engineers and researchers from INOV-INESC Inovação, comprises a network of sensors, cameras, and strategically positioned drones in forested areas. These sensors and cameras maintain continuous surveillance of the environment, actively searching for signs of fire, including indicators such as smoke, temperature fluctuations, and heat. To fill in areas with limited coverage, this sensor network can be supplemented by a fleet of drones. These drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras, capable of capturing detailed images of the monitored area. These images are seamlessly integrated into the Ciclope software platform, facilitating the detection, validation, and tracking of potential fire outbreaks.
The inception of this project dates back to 1994, when it was conceived as a concept. At that time, INESC (the National Institute of Systems and Computer Engineering) was involved in projects aimed at developing technological capabilities for remote monitoring. The objective was to contribute to operational decision-making in firefighting management without requiring the deployment of human resources to the site, thereby saving valuable time and resources. The proof of concept for Ciclope was presented in Gerês in 1998. Subsequently, INOV emerged within the INESC family, and the Ciclope system was first employed by Civil Protection in Santarém in collaboration with COTEC Portugal, the Business Association for Innovation. In 2005, this successful experience was expanded to Porto, and the positive outcomes prompted national municipalities to commence investing in the implementation of the Ciclope system in 2007.
However, this investment was not consistent, and between 2008 and 2017, the installation and maintenance of the system experienced an administrative hiatus. It wasn't until 2017, even prior to the tragic Pedrogão Grande fires, that the implementation of a new framework program (Portugal 2020) prompted intermunicipal communities, particularly in the Central and Northern regions, to express their interest in safeguarding their territories with the help of Ciclope. Unfortunately, these initiatives did not materialize in time to avert the disaster, underscoring the operational significance of this kind of solution.
One of the primary advantages of Ciclope is its capacity to detect fires in their nascent stages, pre-empting their ability to escalate into uncontrollable blazes that cause extensive damage. This capability is achieved through the analysis of captured images and the utilization of advanced machine-learning algorithms capable of discerning subtle alterations in the environment that may signal the presence of a fire. This early detection empowers operators to react promptly and effectively, enhancing the likelihood of successful containment and mitigating risks to lives and property.
Another merit of Ciclope is its ability to provide continuous surveillance over extensive forested areas, enabling comprehensive and efficient monitoring of regions prone to wildfires. This is particularly vital in locales where traditional monitoring methods might be constrained by factors like challenging terrain or limited accessibility.
In summary, Ciclope represents a substantial leap forward in the realm of forest fire prevention and monitoring. By combining cutting-edge technology with inventive early detection and monitoring methodologies, Ciclope holds the potential to significantly curtail the environmental and societal repercussions of forest fires.
The Ciclope system is not intended to replace human intervention but rather to serve as a valuable tool tailored to the requirements of those responsible for operational responses, such as civil protection and GNR. It enhances their ability to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a fire outbreak.
By the end of 2022, the Ciclope system had extended its coverage to encompass over half of Portugal's national territory. In the current year, a contract has already been finalized with the Cávado Intermunicipal Community for the installation of four new towers in the Braga district.
While not a universal solution, the vigilant oversight provided by this system across the Portuguese forests has significantly contributed to their protection as well as the well-being of those who inhabit and value these natural areas. Furthermore, there are ambitions for this technology to expand internationally. In 2008, the system saw its initial installations in Greece and later in Italy. However, similar to Portugal, it faced periods of underinvestment and implementation pauses. Nevertheless, there is an expectation that Greek investments in this technology will gain momentum and prominence, driven by Greek R&D projects developed in collaboration with local partners.
In conclusion, the Ciclope system and its recent implementations serve as a compelling illustration of how investments in scientific and technological research and development can yield tangible benefits in Portugal. This underscores the importance of a continued commitment by the state to foster innovation and technological advancement.