AI being tested for wildfire detection intelligence

Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Wildfire Safety Operations Center is currently testing out artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities in its network of high def cameras across Northern and Central California.

Working in collaboration with ALERTWildfire and Alchera, the company is looking at how AI could enhance fire-watch and response capabilities.

Sumeet Singh, PG&E Chief Risk Officer, said: “We are using every new tool and technology at our disposal to improve situational awareness and intelligence to help mitigate and prevent wildfires, including this new AI capability. Every bit of data and intelligence that comes to us could potentially save a life.”

The fire-watch camera feeds are used by the company’s Wildlife Safety Operations Center, outside agencies and first responders, who will monitor, detect, assess for threats and respond to any fires.

The AI pilot is also looking to find a way to get the new data to the right people quickly – as the sooner data is received, the quicker first responders can be deployed, and PG&E can move resources to where they are needed.

“The software analyzes the video feed and if it thinks it sees smoke, we receive an alert via email and text, telling us it just detected smoke. Our analysts then pinpoint where the smoke is coming from and determine if it’s a car fire, dumpster fire, or even a vegetation fire. Based on the location, we can assess for threat to the public or PG&E facilities,” said Eric Sutphin, Supervisor at PG&E’s WSOC who’s in charge of the camera installations. “The AI filters out a significant number of false positives, for example, ruling out dust, fog or haze.”

The AI programme is already making a difference. At the start of August, the Howell Mountain 1 camera which was equipped with Alchera’s AI software spotted smoke one minute before the actual fire dispatch and several minutes sooner than the manual movement of the camera.

In September, over 100 fire fighters returned to South Africa, after spending a month in northern Manitoba in Canada providing assistance to local fire crews tackling a series of wildfire blazes.

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