HPWREN Applies More Technology Options to Emergency Responders

August 9, 2017

Staff of HPWREN regularly consider how we might make our collected data more useful for our user community (which is predominately in the Scientific Research and Public Safety arenas). We request user feedback through our web pages and ask at many opportunities how we might improve the packaging or presentation of our existing data, or what new data might we be in a position to provide. This year we have made improvements to both.

One significant data type we have provided for well over a decade is near real time camera image data. These images, starting in the early 2000's, are now updated once per minute and the entire collection consumes over 140 TB of storage. We have made this data set more accessible to the public this year through our archival access system at http://dl-hpwren.ucsd.edu/archive. The site allows its visitors to access years of full resolution camera image data, from cameras all over San Diego County, identify images of interest, and download them in bulk (the interface looks and works similar to Google Docs, so it is quite easy to use).

We also create animations every 3 hours from our cameras and make them accessible through our HPWREN web site. During especially interesting events (severe weather, fires, etc.) we will often make longer, higher resolution, or more specialized (multi-camera aggregate or near infra-red, for example) animations and publish those through Youtube. See http://youtube.com/hpwren for examples. We have also been recently experimenting with the introduction of PTZ cameras alongside our fixed north/east/south/west facing cameras to see what additional functionality they might offer.

On July 8, 2017 the "perfect (fire) storm" known as the Whittier Fire in Santa Barbara County started dramatically, burning over 18,000 acres, and as of July 30 fire crews have reached 87% containment. We had the opportunity to experiment with novel ways to use a mix of fixed and PTZ cameras which we had mounted on top of Santa Ynez Peak. Our fixed camera data was heavily utilized by Emergency Responders as was our PTZ camera, with the PTZ allowing some Incident Commanders the ability to remotely direct and focus the camera on targets of interest, which also included the ability to replace the functionality of one of the fixed cameras when it was painted with air-dropped fire retardant. We were also experimenting with Live-Streaming from these cameras to Youtube so that real time video would be available as well. During this fire we received requests from CalFire to allow them control of the Santa Ynez PTZ, to provide per camera automatic updating of individual camera images each minute a new image appeared (to work best on their CalFire display wall at their MVU ECC) and to adjust some of the real time streaming attributes which, unexpectedly, provided CalFire significant new capabilities in their Incident Command Center[s]. In addition to CalFire feedback, we were also able to discuss these new capabilities with Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District fire fighters.

It turns out that the transition from viewing individual images to watching real time streaming video allowed responders to better see the dynamics of the fire, the affects of weather (winds, humidity and temperature) on the spread of the fire, the real time results of their fire fighting strike teams (both on ground and in the air), the overrun of the mountain top with fire, and the effects of dropping water and retardant on the fire (and the cameras!), as well as some unexpected imagery from near infra-red cameras that actually let viewers seen into and partially through the fire and smoke. After action feedback was extremely positive and many of the new capabilities we provided ad-hoc during the emergency are now being designed into our systems along with mechanisms to more easily manage them and respond to requests during future emergencies.

It turns out early July was an exciting time for HPWREN staff ... we learned more about the needs of our emergency responders and were able to provide new services for the community.

Example links to Whittier Fire time-lapse animations can be found at:

20170708 Whittier Fire multiday PTZ view

20170708 360 degree Santa Barbara Whittier Fire time-lapse

20170709 The Fight For Santa Ynez Peak (including camera painting)

20170709 Whittier Fire, Santa Ynez north view

20170714 Whittier SW

An incident summary about the Whittier Fire can be found HERE.