ALERTWildfire is a consortium of three universities -- The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), University of California San Diego (UCSD), and the University of Oregon (UO) -- providing access to state-of-the-art Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) fire cameras and associated tools to help firefighters and first responders: (1) discover/locate/confirm fire ignition, (2) quickly scale fire resources up or down appropriately, (3) monitor fire behavior through containment, (4) during firestorms, help evacuations through enhanced situational awareness, and (5) ensure contained fires are monitored appropriately through their demise.
ALERTWildfire is an expansion of the first network, ALERTTahoe, which was a pilot program deploying PTZ cameras and microwave networks in the region surrounding beautiful Lake Tahoe. This initial project was funded through the Nevada Seismological Laboratory (NSL) at UNR, the Tahoe Prosperity Center, the Eldorado National Forest, and the USFS Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Soon thereafter, through a contract with the Nevada Bureau of Land Management, the network quickly grew eastward into northern Nevada where the BLM Wildland Fire Camera Project was born. With growing successes in the summers of 2014-16, new contracts with the Oregon-Washington and Idaho Bureaus of Land Management and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) provided further expansion of new fire cameras and microwave locations, and core university participation as UCSD and UO came aboard. As fire season 2018 unfolds, construction continues to expand throughout existing microwave networks and at new sites in Sonoma County, Orange County, and other locations throughout five states.
During the past two fire seasons of 2016-2017, ALERTWildfire provided critical information for over 350 fires, including the Lilac, Wall, Whittier, Thomas, Tule, Woodchuck, Earthstone, Truckee, Draw, Snowstorm, Hot Pot, and Emerald fires; a 2016 arson spree in Lake Tahoe; and hundreds more. In late 2017, the devastating North Bay Complex and Thomas fires brought into sharp focus the need to quickly expand coverage across the western US. Although the three partner universities had been building their own redundant microwave networks to reliably acquire imagery, it became obvious that deploying new infrastructure to cover large areas in a short period of time was not realistic. Thus, a new strategy was adopted in early 2018 to install cameras on existing third-party microwave networks, to build larger virtual networks, produce regional coverage, and do it quickly! In this model, "towers of opportunity" (e.g., utilities, state and county services, and other private point-to-point communications infrastructure) are outfitted with fire cameras and associated equipment to potentially allow one hundred or more fire cameras to be installed in a single season. The data from these confederated networks are seamlessly incorporated into NSL's back-end acquisition systems and presented on our cloud-based website in a straightforward manner. To firefighters and first responders, it means "more cameras more quickly", which equals better decision making capabilities.
Forest Guards and ALERT Tahoe
The first ALERTTahoe project began as a joint project between the Nevada Seismological Laboratory and the Forest Guard team, a group of young students from Meadow Vista, California; the Forest Guards won the Innovate Award at the Children's Climate Action in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009. Their idea was to seed the forest with cameras that were connected wirelessly to enable early wildfire detection. Their most innovative contribution was the added ingredient of social media to engage the larger public to stand guard over the forest, or "Forest Guard". Their team leader, Heidi Buck, and 6 young adults joined together with the seismology lab and Sony Europe to place a prototype system in place in 2010.
Some 8 years later, the 3nd generation of this system has been installed around the greater Lake Tahoe region and throughout the west, providing critical information on 350+ fires in the past two years. The public now has access to this expanding system, making their dream of a socially engaged public in the fight against wildfire come true.