CENIC Recognizes Technology Projects to Combat California Wildfires

WIFIRE, HPWREN, AlertTahoe Projects Win 2018 Innovations in Networking Awards

February 20, 2018

Reprinted with permission of a SDSC press release

Two University of California San Diego projects, along with a complementary University of Nevada, Reno project, have been selected as recipients of the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) 2018 Innovations in Networking Award for Experimental Applications in recognition of work advancing IT and telecommunications technologies to help minimize potential damage caused by wildfires.

CENIC, a nonprofit corporation formed in 1996 to provide high-performance, high-bandwidth networking services to California universities and research institutions, will formally present the awards to the leaders of the WIFIRE, HPWREN, and AlertTahoe projects at its annual conference, to be held this year March 5-7 in Monterey, California. The conference highlights exemplary innovations that leverage ultra-high bandwidth networking, particularly where such innovations have the potential to transform ways in which instruction and research are conducted, or where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas.

A Cal Fire firefighter installs an antenna on a microwave tower to connect a nearby fire station to HPWREN. Courtesy of HPWREN/SDSC.

Project leaders being recognized for 2018 are Ilkay Altintas (San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego); John Graham (Qualcomm Institute, UC San Diego); Graham Kent, (Nevada Seismological Laboratory, University of Nevada, Reno); and Frank Vernon (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego).

WIFIRE is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project led by UC San Diego that has developed real-time and data-driven simulation, prediction, and visualization of wildfire behavior. During this past year’s chaotic fires in Napa, Sonoma, Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego Counties, WIFIRE’s publicly available fire map was viewed more than 8 million times, while the WIFIRE team was in close communication with fire response agencies and chiefs from various fire departments. In December 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 WIFIRE team has worked tirelessly with fire authorities during the Fall 2017 fires, said Altintas, who also is SDSC’s Chief Data Science Officer. “I’m honored to accept this recognition by CENIC on behalf of my entire team. We look forward to working with CENIC, HPWREN, AlertTahoe, and state officials to expand our services.”

The collection of this crucial data was made possible by the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN), which started in 2000 under NSF funding after being co-founded by Vernon and Hans-Werner Braun, a research scientist with SDSC. HPWREN has built 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.

Similarly, AlertTahoe has during 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,” said 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.

The WIFIRE project, headed by Altintas, merges observations, such as satellite imagery and real-time data from sensors in the field, with computational techniques such as signal processing, visualization, modeling, 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 program, which enhances sustainability using advanced technologies and new methods.

WIFIRE participants include researchers from SDSC, the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology's (Calit2) Qualcomm Institute, and the UC San Diego Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) department. Also participating in the project is the University of Maryland's Department of Fire Protection Engineering.

“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,” said Calit2 Director Larry Smarr. “Their pioneering results set the stage for wildfire threat reduction via wireless extensions from any CENIC-connected entity in California.”

While working at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution for Oceanography, Graham Kent was a strong collaborator on the HPWREN program. 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. 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 data, 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.

“As the HPWREN developed, the advantages of using research quality sensors in public safety domains has become apparent,” said Vernon. “HPWREN and AlertTahoe are the working foundation from which coverage for the state of California can be built. Combined with WIFIRE, these three projects leverage next-generation networking and computing for real-time applications providing unprecedented situational awareness.”

In 2017, AlertTahoe experimented with machine-vision auto-detect software, which is designed to automatically detect and report smoke. In 2018, 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 UC San Diego are focused in the San Francisco Bay Area and Napa/Sonoma regions.

“The resources provided for our first responders and the public have made possible swift, effective fire-fighting and evacuation strategies, and potentially saved many lives,” said 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.”

About CENIC: CENIC connects California to the world, advancing education and research statewide by providing the world-class networks essential for innovation, collaboration, and economic growth. This nonprofit organization operates the California Research and Education Network (CalREN), a high-capacity network designed to meet the unique requirements of over 20 million users, including the vast majority of K-20 students together with educators, researchers and individuals at other vital public-serving institutions.

About SDSC

As an Organized Research Unit of UC San Diego, SDSC is considered a leader in data-intensive computing and cyberinfrastructure, providing resources, services, and expertise to the national research community, including industry and academia. Cyberinfrastructure refers to an accessible, integrated network of computer-based resources and expertise, focused on accelerating scientific inquiry and discovery. SDSC supports hundreds of multidisciplinary programs spanning a wide variety of domains, from earth sciences and biology to astrophysics, bioinformatics, and health IT. SDSC’s petascale Comet supercomputer is a key resource within the National Science Foundation’s XSEDE (Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) program.

About Calit2/Qualcomm Institute

The Qualcomm Institute is the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), one of four Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation located on University of California campuses. QI brings together more than 350 faculty members, nearly 120 technical and professional staff on the UC San Diego campus, as well as hundreds of student workers, undergraduate scholars, graduate fellows, postdoctoral researchers, project and research scientists, and nearly 200 industry partners to date. The institute’s strategic vision stresses collaborative, interdisciplinary research in four core areas to benefit society: culture, energy, the environment, and health.