Wi-Fi Helps Wildfire Prevention

With more than 5,000 homes in the Santa Barbara, CA area evacuated due to the 500-acre Jesusita Fire today, we reprise a few stories from our archives about the potential Wi-Fi has for early detection and wildfire prevention.

Wi-Fi to the Rescue,” by Jeff Goldman, November 1, 2007

The wildfires throughout Southern California this fall served as a stark reminder of the value of advanced wireless applications for public safety. From remote monitoring of fire conditions to streaming video in police cars, Wi-Fi has proven exceptionally useful for municipal public safety deployments.

In a particularly timely announcement, Tropos Networks this month announced the deployment of a Wi-Fi “Fire Watch” system in Laguna Beach, California. The company has been working with the city of Laguna Beach for a while to support video surveillance of local beaches when lifeguards weren’t available, but the fire watch system is new.

A major fire in the city in 1993 destroyed more than 390 homes and burned over 16,000 acres, prompting Laguna Beach residents to look for an effective early warning system. With a federal grant from the Bureau of Land Management, the city has worked with Tropos to deploy a wireless video surveillance system covering 20 square miles around Laguna Beach.

The system uses cameras mounted on fiberglass poles that are backhauled to solar-powered transmitters, allowing public safety officials to monitor the surrounding area 24/7 for any early signs of fire. And it’s not just for fire prevention–the plan is to use the video system to help park rangers and naturalists conduct studies of local wildlife as well. For the rest of the story, click here.

Wireless on Fire,” by Adam Stone, January 14, 2004

With thousands of acres of California engulfed in flames in late October 2003, helicopter pilots were doing all they could, taking detailed readings of the fire’s position in the hope of guiding firefighters in their efforts.

Trouble was, the readings had to be recorded on disc and then delivered by hand to stations on the ground, where the data could be fed into sophisticated mapping applications. That procedure could take as much as four hours — until Harris Corporation came on the scene, with a Wi-Fi implementation that cut down the transfer time to as little as 18 minutes.

“When you have these tools, which you can consider to be off-the-shelf tools, it is very, very versatile,” says Marketing Manager Kurt T. Kyvik.

Harris Corp. is primarily a military contractor, and its chief involvement with the wild fires was through the use of the advanced mapping programs that allowed firefighters to track the fire lines. The Navy uses that high-security product, which in turn requires a high-security Wi-Fi interface. But except for the security protocols, the Wi-Fi piece of the puzzle was standard-issue stuff. For the rest of the story, click here.

Wi-Fi Finds a Niche in Public Safety,” May 23, 2008, by Jeff Goldman

Municipal Wi-Fi networks may have been getting a bad rap lately, but citywide wireless networks deployed to support public safety – as opposed to public Internet access – seem to be doing just fine. From Washington, D.C. to Dallas, Texas, cities are using tools like video surveillance both to prevent crime and to investigate incidents after the fact. And according to Michael Dillon, vice president of business development for municipal markets at Firetide, wireless technology is key to allowing cities to place cameras strategically wherever they’re most useful.

In Dallas, Texas last month, police arrested a man accused of mugging an 18-year-old ROTC cadet after the incident was captured on the city’s wireless video surveillance system, which consists of 32 Firetide mesh nodes and 40 Sony cameras throughout downtown Dallas. Dillon says the quality of the video in that kind of deployment also makes a big difference.

“Dallas is a good indication of how law enforcement is able to use high-quality video to go back and see what happened,” he says.

Firetide also allows for direct coordination between physically disparate networks. At SuperBowl XLII in Phoenix, Arizona, Dillon says, “we were able to connect two command centers together over a 3.1-mile shot, and allow them to share data, video, and voice across that network.” The same thing, he says, could conceivably be done with any number of police departments in cities across the country (or the world) from each other, allowing public safety personnel to collaborate directly on a crime problem that may have roots in a number of different locations. For the rest of the story, click here.

Here Comes the Sun,” by Amy Mayer, November 26, 2007

The ubiquity of Wi-Fi, particularly with the coverage a mesh network can provide, is primarily limited by the ability to get power to each access point. Increasingly, in environments as diverse as small villages in developing countries, vineyards in California, and Chicago Transit Authority maintenance yards, the power of the sun is fueling nodes where AC power is unavailable or unaffordable.

Solar-powered Wi-Fi takes on different guises depending on the specifics of a situation. But typically an access point requires a small solar panel, an inverter to convert the sun’s energy to electricity, and a battery to store that power. Those things connect with the router or other hardware and the point functions the same as one powered solely by disposable batteries or AC power.

Protection and security

For Solis Energy of Orlando, Florida, perimeters of buildings and outlying tarmacs at airports have brought customers in the door.

“Specifically in the solar, it’s been for security systems,” says CEO and founder Robert Reynolds. An engineer, Reynolds made the transition into solar powering wireless systems after helping his son, then in junior high, with a science project. The potential applications of solar power seemed marketable, and after assessing the situation with a colleague, Reynolds launched Solis.

When a Wi-Fi AP is desired in a location without power, Reynolds says, the cost of having wired electrical power run to the location far exceeds the cost of a solar set-up. And the “solar power plant” that he markets for various applications works well for Wi-Fi because the needed power wattage is low. For the rest of the story, click here.

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