WIFIRE is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project at UCSD that has developed real-time and data-driven simulation, prediction, and visualization of wildfire behaviour. During this past year's chaotic fires of Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego, WIFIRE's publicly available fire map was viewed over 8 million times, while the WIFIRE team was in close communication with fire response agencies and chiefs from various fire departments - mainly from Los Angeles and San Diego. WIFIRE provided predictive maps for the Thomas, Skirball, Creek, Rye, and Lilac Fires in Southern California and monitored the first responder radio channels and fire perimeter information to quickly create simulations of the spread of specific wildfires.
The collection of this crucial data was made possible by the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN), started in 2000 under NSF funding. HPWREN has built out high-speed wireless networks in San Diego, Imperial, Orange, and Riverside Counties, enabling hundreds of cameras and meteorological stations to stream critically important data to servers connected with each other by the CENIC backbone and providing wide-area wireless Internet access throughout southernmost California. HPWREN's remote sensor network collects data from wildfire cameras, seismic networks, hydrological sensors, oceanographic sensors, meteorological sensors, and coastal radar and GPS, providing a groundbreaking wealth of information that is shared via the CENIC network.
"As a constant user and monitor of the HPWREN site for many years, I have enjoyed the evolutions that are taking place. The Whittier Fire (monitoring Santa Ynez Peak live) really highlighted the value of the system. I was glued to the camera that day as the fire climbed the ridge. Great live camera work by your team. The PTZ cameras and KML data are strong new assets", stated Dave Fleming, Lookout 23, Forest Fire Lookout Association, San Diego.
Similarly, AlertTahoe has, over the past five years, provided discovery, early warning, and monitoring for over 350 wildfires throughout the Sierras and Nevada's Great Basin, giving wildland firefighting managers the essential time and information needed to move quickly and respond effectively. This system of pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) fire cameras and multi-hazard tracking includes time lapse footage on-demand, smoke investigation, prescribed fire oversight, wildfire tracking, earthquake early warning, and monitoring of extreme weather events.
"The safety of my firefighters and the communities they protect is my priority, so having more information about a fire before we encounter it is an added safety measure that benefits our first responders", stated San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy. "Having access to a live view of our highest-risk fire areas will greatly improve situational awareness, our coordination with CAL FIRE, and allow for quicker response times, better response strategies, and faster evacuation orders to ensure our communities are better prepared in the face of a wildfire. During the ignition of the Church Fire, I could watch the smoke on my phone - the colour, the direction - and immediately knew the resources that I needed to deploy and the time they would be engaged. Furthermore, the crews could watch how the fire progressed on their tablets as they approached the fire, providing real-time situational awareness. These fire cameras are a game changer."
WIFIRE, headed by Ilkay Altintas, merges observations, such as satellite imagery and real-time data from sensors in the field, with computational techniques like signal processing, visualization, modelling, and data assimilation, to monitor environmental conditions and predict where and how fast a wildfire will spread. The project is funded as part of the NSF Hazards SEES programme, which enhances sustainability using advanced technologies and new methods. Participants in WIFIRE include researchers from the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology's (Calit2) Qualcomm Institute, and the UCSD Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) department. Also participating in the project is the University of Maryland's Department of Fire Protection Engineering.
"Wildfires have become a major threat to both Northern and Southern California. The WIFIRE, HPWREN, and AlertTahoe projects are now actively collaborating with each other, the first-responder community, and CENIC to give California new digital tools to reduce the wildfire danger, including early detection/warning, situational awareness, predictive simulations, and first-responder planning. Their pioneering results set the stage for wildfire threat reduction via wireless extensions from any CENIC-connected entity in California", stated Larry Smarr, Director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.
While working at UCSD's Scripps Institution for Oceanography, Graham Kent was a strong collaborator on HPWREN. When he left to become a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, he founded AlertTahoe, a fire camera system that uses a private, high-speed Internet microwave communications system for real-time fire-spotting and monitoring. AlertTahoe provides coverage of the Lake Tahoe Basin and surrounding mountains, thousands of square miles of northern Nevada's Great Basin, and regions as far south as Bishop, California, in the eastern Sierra.
The networked fire cameras discovered seven wildland fires in the Tahoe basin in AlertTahoe's inaugural two-year deployment, and in 2017 alone provided discovery, early intel, and/or monitoring of 207 others. The HD/4K fire cameras are remotely controllable for tilt, pan, zoom, and, for some new cameras, continuous rotation.
"The cameras are strategically sited to provide a landscape overview", stated Paul Petersen, Fire Management Officer, Nevada Bureau of Land Management. "All cameras are equipped with on-demand time-lapse functions to allow playback throughout different time periods. This allows dispatchers and duty officers to play back the camera feed to detect anomalies and gather a local picture of what is happening, and has happened, within the field of view of the camera. This camera network gives fire managers a real-time picture of what is happening from both a weather and fire behavior standpoint. We have almost 500 people looking at the public site at various times, and 12 duty officers and dispatchers have access to the cameras for tactical fire response 24/7."
In 2017, AlertTahoe experimented with machine-vision auto-detect software, which is designed to automatically detect and report smoke. In 2018, Graham Kent and co-founder Ken Smith will join forces with Doug Toomey at the University of Oregon to expand the system into Oregon and Idaho. Similar efforts with Neal Driscoll at UCSD are focused in the San Francisco Bay Area and Napa regions.
"The resources provided for our first responders and the public have made possible swift, effective fire-fighting and evacuation strategies, and potentially saved countless lives", stated Louis Fox, President and CEO of CENIC. "The impact that these projects have made in keeping Californians, our communities, and our natural resources safe from wildfires is profound. The projects we are recognizing with this award have highlighted the usefulness and value of wireless extensions of the CENIC fiber network and set the stage for continued support and scaling up of these and other, related wireless initiatives."
The CENIC Innovations in Networking Awards are presented each year at CENIC's annual conference to highlight the exemplary innovations that leverage ultra-high bandwidth networking, particularly where those innovations have the potential to transform the ways in which instruction and research are conducted or where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas. The CENIC conference will be held March 5-7, 2018, in Monterey, California.