We are in the middle of fire season here in the Northwest. This has been a hot, dry summer so the threat of wildfire is great. Several of my friends have worked on fire crews at some point so I wondered about the role technology plays in fighting wildfires. I was delighted to find that someone had blazed that trail before me and technology plays a role not only in fire fighting but also in fire protection. In this blog post I will focus on technology in fire protection. I will dedicate an upcoming post to technology in fire fighting.
Eye In The Sky
I was amazed to find that many of the rustic fire towers perched on mountaintops in California, Oregon, and Washington are decommissioned. In a recent article in Outside magazine the authors report that fewer than 35% of the towers are still manned. Due to budget cuts, fire watchers have largely been replaced by a network of cameras. According to the article, a camera can spot a fire up to 100 miles away and can spot fires at night through near infrared vision.
Oregon has a network of cameras called ForestWatch by Envirovision Solutions. These cameras are networked to provide coverage over the most fire prone areas of the state. They are all monitored remotely and can detect a change in the terrain from a digital model. Through mathematical algorithms, the cameras send an alarm when it detects anomalies or pattern differences such as fire or smoke. The remote monitoring station can then focus the camera or cameras on the suspicious area and collect GPS coordinates in case they need to send in a ground or air crew. Fires are spotted quicker and their specific location is known much faster, which may reduce the spread and damage of a fire.
This is a great use of technology but what kind of education does it take to install, program, and monitor these cameras? My research shows knowledge in the following areas is required:
GIS—A strong background in geographical information systems (GIS). This includes mapping and data analysis.
Data modeling—A strong background in data modeling and database management. There are many data points involved here, from GPS coordinates to topographical data to wind speed to moisture index, and they all need to be combined and modeled to show the monitor what fire crews will encounter.
Wireless networking—These cameras are networked to the central monitoring station and often to each other. In a suspected fire, multiple cameras from various angles can verify the validity of the alarm. A person would need a strong background in wireless networking to establish and maintain these cameras.
Fire watch cameras are a good use of technology and a reminder that new jobs often require a strong education in math and science as well as specific technical skills. As the technology moves from human fire watchers to sophisticated data collecting cameras, we must continue updating our education to be prepared for these jobs of the 21st century.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.