Photo: Erik Jepsen

CENIC Awards AI Fire-Detection Tool an “Innovations in Networking” Award for Innovations in Public Safety

The award recognizes exemplary people, projects, and organizations that leverage high-bandwidth networking

The Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) named an AI fire-detection tool created by the University of California San Diego’s ALERTCalifornia program, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), and industry partner DigitalPath the winner of the 2024 Innovations in Networking Award for Innovation in Public Safety. 

Launched in summer 2023, the AI system provides early wildfire confirmation and actionable real-time data to quickly scale fire resources, support evacuations through enhanced situational awareness, and monitor fire behavior. The AI platform is a new tool in the toolbox and allows data to drive firefighting decisions, which saves lives and protects biohabitats and infrastructure. The AI quickly became an important tool for CAL FIRE, and is currently used at all 21 Dispatch Centers across the state. It is especially effective in spotting anomalies in remote locations and has proven effective at night, even alerting firefighters to potential incidents before 911 calls. 

“The cameras and AI are revolutionizing wildfire detection, providing invaluable early warnings in both non and densely populated regions,” said CAL FIRE Staff Chief of Intelligence Philip SeLegue. “By swiftly identifying fires many times before initial emergency reports, these advanced systems are not just technology, they assist in our mission to suppress 95% of fire 10 acres or less. Every second counts in wildfire response, and ALERTCalifornia’s cameras and the AI are proving to be indispensable guardians of our communities' safety."

The AI assimilates image data from over 1,060 cameras provided by ALERTCalifornia's extensive network, enabling the effective monitoring and identification of potential incidents. This system is supported by UC San Diego’s advanced wireless network and builds upon the university's partnership project High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN). HPWREN also received a CENIC award in 2018. Today, ALERTCalifornia's team bridges disciplines and includes researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Jacobs School of Engineering, and the Qualcomm Institute. The program’s integrated system allows stakeholders real-time access to ALERTCalifornia's images and the ability to view time-lapse histories, significantly enhancing situational awareness and decision-making capabilities.

“ALERTCalifornia, CAL FIRE, and DigitalPath are very proud to be the recipients of the 2024 CENIC award in recognition of network innovations for public safety,” said Neal Driscoll, ALERTCalifornia director and professor of geology and geophysics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. “We have employed high-bandwidth networking to provide new tools in the toolbox and allow data to drive firefighting decisions, which saves lives and protects biohabitats and infrastructure.” 

When the AI spots a potential fire, the system alerts firefighters and provides a percentage of certainty and estimated location for the incident. If the incident is vetted and confirmed by trained watchstanders, firefighters respond quickly to extinguish the fire at the incipient phase. This system excels due to the expertise brought by each partner.  

“Our collaborative partnerships with UC San Diego and CAL FIRE have been fundamental to this platform’s success. By combining our individual strengths, we are helping make an impact on California’s wildfire problem,” says Scott Schifando, vice president of operations for DigitalPath and ALERTWest. “Having witnessed the catastrophic impacts of wildfires firsthand, we are fully committed to developing cutting-edge technologies to help save lives, property, and the environment, both within California and globally.”

CENIC is a nonprofit organization that operates a high-capacity computer network that serves more than 20 million users across California, including the vast majority of K-20 students together with educators, researchers, and individuals at other vital public-serving institutions. Their Innovations in Networking Awards recognize exemplary people, projects, and organizations that leverage high-bandwidth networking.

The success in early AI wildfire confirmation and all-hazards situational awareness is made possible through the unique public-private partnership between DigitalPath, ALERTCalifornia scientists, and CAL FIRE experts. This public-private collaboration was recognized by TIME as one the top innovations of 2023

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.