Real-time mapping and AI-assisted fire detection

GRASS VALLEY, Calif., June 30, 2023 – Both a Fire Integrated Real-time Intelligence System (FIRIS) mapping plane and a new Fire Hawk were on display at Thursday’s event at Grass Valley Air Attack Base (GVAAB). They are now part of the state’s toolkit for rapidly assessing and containing wildfires.

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Grass Valley Air Strike Base on June 29, 2023


The FIRIS program, launched in 2019 in Orange County under the leadership of Chief Brian Fennessy, provides real-time information to ground crews responding to fires. Effective today, July 1, 2023, FIRIS will be jointly operated by Cal OES and CAL FIRE through the state’s mutual aid fire and rescue system in the event of an incident of any kind.

The ability to quickly map a fire, detect possible points outside the lines of control, combined with infrared cameras that map every single hot spot is invaluable to resources fighting a fire. FIRIS also sends the mapping data to the UC San Diego supercomputer, where predictive models analyze the current fire and send the probability of spread to FIRIS and the fire incident commander. This allows you to make faster decisions about resource demand. Engines, hand crews, equipment or aircraft can be shipped immediately. If evacuations are needed, this gives agencies more time to issue emergency notifications and get residents out safely.

Governor Newsom, after exiting the FIRIS mapping plan, highlighted the state of the art of technology used in California: “Technological tools are used here in the state of California like no other jurisdiction that we know of in the United States. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to learn about the work Cal Fire is doing.”

Chris Pahalek, an airborne sensor operator at AEVEX Aerospace, explained, “We’re making incredibly accurate measurements down to the hundredth of an acre. Our ability to provide real-time information to decision-makers in the field will influence last-minute decision-making regarding priorities, possible evacuation orders and the placement of resources in the field.”

FIRIS at Grass Valley Air Attack Base on June 29, 2023. YubaNet photo
FIRIS at Grass Valley Air Attack Base on June 29, 2023. YubaNet photo

Grass Valley ECC to evaluate AI-assisted fire detection

CAL FIRE Unit Chief Brian Estes, whose Nevada-Yuba-Placer (NEU) unit hosted the event, gave a tour of the Emergency Command Center (ECC) located at the Interagency Command Center. “Today’s theme was twofold. One was that convergence of proven technologies and emerging technologies in our response. Part two today was really about the technology here and the men and women dedicated to advancing our mission in fire and emergency services. The Grass Valley Command Center is a location that is often chosen because we are robust, we are busy, we have a high call volume and we are a very professional operation.”

The GVECC processes over 71,000 911 calls annually and provides dispatch services to nearly 30 agencies in Nevada, Yuba, Placer, Plumas and El Dorado counties, including Sierra Nevada Ambulance, as well as air ambulance helicopters for the EMS agency of the Sierra Sacramento Valley. The command center also serves as the Regional Coordination Center for California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Region 4 and the Area of ​​Operations Coordination Center for Cal OES in Nevada County and the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Within the ECC, Chief Estes explained, “We have over 1000 cameras throughout California. When the 911 call comes in, it’s about validating that we really have what’s being reported. This center here is one of five in the state that is evaluating AI to go with the camera system so that we’re taking it from validation to detection in our camera systems.

The cameras are part of ALERTCalifornia, a network of more than 1,000 monitoring cameras and sensor arrays. They collect data that provides real-time actionable information to inform public safety. In addition to the network of cameras, and in response to increasingly frequent and severe climate-induced disasters, ALERTCalifornia is prioritizing the collection and research of new data. This data is open-source and is shared with other institutions and partners. Headquartered at UC San Diego, ALERTCalfornia is the third iteration of the university’s wireless network that began with the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) during the 2003 Cedar Fire.

Due to the level of discretion afforded to captains and communications operators to make command decisions prior to arrival, the GVECC functions as a command center versus a dispatch center. Using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect new fires faster adds another tool for first responders to dispatch appropriate resources to the exact location of an emergency.

Chief Estes’ summary of the technology now available and how it’s used highlighted the most important element in fire services: the trained professionals: “It’s really a combination of science, data, policy and protocol. But ultimately, these men and women and the decisions they make are truly critical to our success.”

Learn more about the tools and technology showcased during Thursday’s event in the stories below.

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