The National Wildfire Coordination Group has released what they call an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Incursion Protocol for Wildland Firefighters. It is their attempt to establish a procedure to follow if a UAS (or drone) is spotted near a vegetation fire. It was developed by the Interagency Fire Unmanned Aircraft Systems Subcommittee (UASSC) under the NWCG’s National Interagency Aviation Committee.
The protocol is displayed in a decision tree format, with binary choices (Yes/No) that lead to another condition or question. Generally a decision tree would lead the user through an unambiguous dialog to ultimately reach an undisputed course of action. However this tree is littered with phrases like “if safe”, “if needed”, and “intended actions”. It leaves the Incident Commander or Air Tactical Group Supervisor with a lot of leeway.
For example, if a UAS is observed at a fire, aircraft that are en route may or may not be diverted. Or with a UAS over the fire “resume fire operations when safe”. There is so much leeway and discretion available that it reduces the utility of the tool. It is not so much a “decision tree” as a checklist of items to think about.
Below is the protocol. If you can’t read it, you can view the original .pdf at the NWCG website.