THOMPSON – The eye in the sky soars overhead as radiant islands reveal themselves in stark contrast to the surrounding dark. Yellows and reds pulsate prominently against the gray of the road and the dense black of the forest.

The “islands” are fire “hotspots,” often indiscernible to the naked eye, and prevalent in drought conditions. They can burn underground and surface randomly, ignite vegetation unpredictably, and make fire suppression and mitigation especially challenging.

This particular “eye in the sky” is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), known commonly as a “drone,” owned and operated by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)’s Emergency Response and Spill Prevention Division. The division has invested in solutions for rapidly assessing environmental emergencies, including—with the support of funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness grant program—licensing staff in a special technical services unit to pilot drones.

DEEP’s drone is primarily intended for use at hazardous materials incidents to give an overview of the scene to the incident commander and to provide real-time information on the status of otherwise inaccessible areas. It can take still images and video with an optical camera and an infrared camera. The Emergency Response and Spill Prevention Division has used the drone at several large mill fires which had the potential to release hazardous chemicals and airborne materials to the environment. Additionally, it has been used to find trapped pools of oil from a large spill which flowed into a river.

DEEP’s policy is to only use the drone where there is a severe threat to the environment or to human health/safety, for work related to environmental infrastructure improvement or protection, or for scientific/environmental research. Per Federal Aviation Administration regulations, DEEP does not fly its drone over people.

Recently, the division was kind enough to

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