Sonoma County logoThe County of Sonoma is expanding its early wildfire detection capabilities through innovative artificial intelligence technology that will notify emergency crews when fires are spotted through fire cameras – regardless of whether anybody is watching. Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the County was awarded $2.7 million for early detection system additions and improvements. The grant allocates $225,000 for artificial intelligence monitoring systems that will broaden detection capabilities through existing wildfire camera infrastructure. Remaining funds will be used to install additional cameras to the existing system and reinforce critical communication towers with fire-resilient measures.

In recent years, wildfires have had a devastating effect on human life, property and the environment throughout the state and especially in Sonoma County. Since the October 2017 Tubbs Fire, the County has partnered with other agencies in installing cameras on existing radio communication towers to provide wildfire surveillance throughout California. The ALERTWildfire system was developed and installed by a consortium of public and private entities and currently consists of 746 cameras in California alone. During recent wildfires, ALERTWildfire was a critical tool for command and control elements of regional fire and emergency services to respond quickly to wildfire locations and enable early evacuation warnings.

The addition of AI technology on Sonoma County cameras will deliver integration of optical detection programming through 24/7 monitoring, real-time data streams and automated email and text alerts for critical incidents.

“This early detection technology will provide emergency managers and first responders with round-the-clock monitoring, a sophisticated addition we are excited to add to our alert and warning toolkit,” said Lynda Hopkins, Chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

As part of the program, the County this month awarded a $300,000 contract to South Korea-based Alchera Inc. who specializes in visual AI algorithm development and deployment. Alchera has been formulating smoke and fire detection sensors since 2018, working through the ALERTWildfire camera system. More than 10 million images have been collected from wildfire events between 2013 and 2020 to develop, test and train this technology. An example result of the AI algorithm provided by Alchera can be seen below. The upper and lower images are examples of when the detection result is non-smoke and smoke, respectively. The blue box is the detection result and, in this case, registers a detection result of 97 percent confidence in the probability of smoke.

Once the system is implemented, a detection such as this would notify personnel of a possible fire scenario, either via email or text message and the responding officer would confirm or deny the detection of smoke.

Implementation and real-time monitoring of the AI technology will begin May 1, 2021. Training and modifications will take place through the summer months until November when the system will be able to direct alerts without human intervention. Alchera will continue to manage adjustments including false positive and false negative alerts through February 2023 at which point the County along with other planning partners, including CalFire and REDCOM, will participate in an evaluation of the program and decide on its future use.