When the use of digital technologies tripled the efficiency of forest fire management in the Republic of Korea

The risk of forest fires have been increasing dramatically, as global warming is leading to longer, harsher droughts and more extreme weather events.[1] Drones, together with the use of other technologies (such as GIS, GPS, CCTV cameras, smartphone applications and website portals), have proven to reduce the forest fire detection and extinction time. For the concrete case of the Republic of Korea, the implementation of such digital technologies allowed a reduction from 30 to 5 minutes to detect a forest fire and from 32 to 13 hours to extinguish it. [2]

It all started in 2013, when the Korean Forest Service introduced a four-phased plan to develop an integrated system for forest disaster prevention.[3] Given its success, the Korean Forest Service has been utilizing a scientific and systematic approach through a smart forest disaster response team in August 2019 and with an active use of smart technologies for forest management.[4] In 2020, the government established a new comprehensive forest fire prevention plan. The plan has focused on the provision of a system for forest fire prevention, response and suppression based on science and technology in line with the 4th Industrial Revolution. This plan also strengthened the monitoring and control of forest disease and pests with smart technology.[5]

Having experienced several large forest fires, the Korean government recognized the need for an exclusive organization and system to quickly respond to the disaster of forest fires. The recognition led to the formation of a central organization in charge of forest fires under the Korea Forest Service and organizations responsible for forest fires in local governments and regional Forest Service Offices, which are currently operated to complement with one another.[6] Some of the organizations include: the National Institute of Forest Science (research of fire prediction and launch of a fire danger rating system), the Korean Forestry Promotion Institute (promotes forestry technologies and the creation of the global forestry value for combating climate change[7]), and the Korean Forest Fire Management Service Association (development of policies and promotion of forest fire prevention technologies).[8]

In order to prevent and suppress forest fires, the Korean government utilizes considerable financial resources (USD 228 million) and of manpower, equipment and systems to carry out fire prevention activities.[9]

Policies that helped in the inclusion of digital technologies for disaster risk management in Korea

Before the implementation of the plan, there was the National Informatization Basic Plan (2008–2012) and the Smart E-Government Plan (2011–2015). This resulted in five areas, twenty one agendas, and seventy two informatization activities. Among them, the e-Government project is the fourth area, “knowledge government which works well” which consists of four agendas and nineteen activities.[10] The agendas are aligned with the goals of the initiative, which was a need recognized from the government.

Nowadays, under the Korean New Deal, Korea explicitly supports the use of ICT for climate change adaptation, being one of its focus areas the green transition of infrastructures through the restoration of terrestrial, marine and urban ecosystems, among others.[11]

Lessons learned

For the successful implementation of this monitoring system, the interagency cooperation efforts are highlighted. Those that facilitated communication among first responders, combined with real-time situational information from the smart forest fire prediction and monitoring system, improved forest fire preparedness dramatically. Furthermore, the forest service officials also worked closely with multiple partners across different levels of government as well as with scholars and private-sector experts who worked on forest science and wildfire research. Such collaborations helped the forest service keep the underlying datasets up to date and enabled faster emergency communication and response.[12] The prompt availability of data from diverse sources support informed decision-making during wildfire emergencies.[13]

User friendly mobile application and system were essential for their final use. In this case, the results of online user polls and feedback from user interviews were included into the design of the application and the system was user-friendly in order to make the forest fire prevention and control division officials change their old system to this new one. In this regard, trust between the developers in the ICT division team and the forest fire prevention and control division officials was critical to ensure the effective use of the new system.

Last but not least, this initiative would not have been possible with the government’s strong awareness and commitment to improve crisis response, which facilitated interagency cooperation and resulted in the establishment of an interagency fire operations center in 2018[14] and, to date, is still improving its monitoring system.[15]


[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/climate-feedback-climate-change-forest-fires

[2] http://www.globaldeliveryinitiative.org/sites/default/files/case-studies/gdi_delivery_note_on_smart_forest_fire_management_in_the_republic_of_korea.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/tech/2020/10/133_287041.html

[5] Korea Forest Service, Forest Fire Management Policy and Technology in Korea: Modularization of Korea’s Development Experience in Forestry Field (2020). Available at: https://english.forest.go.kr/kfsweb/cop/bbs/selectBoardArticle.do?nttId=3154714&bbsId=BBSMSTR_1057&pageIndex=1&pageUnit=10&searchtitle=title&searchcont=&searchkey=&searchwriter=&searchdept=&searchWrd=&ctgryLrcls=&ctgryMdcls=&ctgrySmcls=&ntcStartDt=&ntcEndDt=&orgId=&mn=UENG_04_05

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.ctc-n.org/network/network-members/korea-forestry-promotion-institute

[8] http://www.kffmsa.kr/eng/index.html

[9] Korea Forest Service, Forest Fire Management Policy and Technology in Korea: Modularization of Korea’s Development Experience in Forestry Field (2020).

[10] https://www.cairn.info/revue-gestion-et-management-public-2015-2-page-107.htm

[11] https://english.moef.go.kr/co/fixFileDown.do?orgNm=Korean_New_Deal.pdf

[12] http://www.globaldeliveryinitiative.org/sites/default/files/case-studies/gdi_delivery_note_on_smart_forest_fire_management_in_the_republic_of_korea.pdf

[13] Ibid.

[14] http://www.globaldeliveryinitiative.org/library/case-studies/smart-forest-fire-management-republic-korea-creating-data-driven-and-user

[15] https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/tech/2020/10/133_287041.html



My name is Cristina Bernal Aparicio and I write to raise awareness and share knowledge on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Adaptating for the Future

My name is Cristina Bernal Aparicio and I write to raise awareness and share knowledge on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.