San Diego’s Wildfire Experience Provides an Edge in Disaster-Tracking Tech

9/29/10Follow @bvbigelow

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his own research on improving the performance and quality of wireless-based networks. Fire agencies use the network for wildfire communications and data collection; teachers use it for remote education; and scientists for remote environmental sensing for their research in seismology, astronomy, and other fields.

The sensor data and images collected from such networks are coming together in places like the Immersive Visualization Center of the Geography Department at San Diego State University, which proved to be a key coordinating center during the 2007 firestorms. An avalanche of real-time imaging, including infrared views and sensor data from satellites, military aircraft, and other sources flowed into the lab, which became the nexus of a voluntary, Web-based, wildfire mapping effort.

Satellite image of 2007 wildfires

Satellite image of 2007 wildfires

It was the first time that civilian fire departments had worked so closely with the Department of Defense and National Guard, according to a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune a few weeks later. “We were working with some of the highest-tech equipment the military has, the same stuff they’re using in Iraq,” state Fire Marshal Kate Dargan told the newspaper. The images came mostly from a host of manned and unmanned military surveillance planes, including a Predator surveillance aircraft assigned to NASA and a high-altitude Global Hawk spy plane operated by the Air Force, as well as video from local police and fire helicopters.

Eric Frost, an associate professor of geological sciences who co-directs the “VizLab” at SDSU, told me he was particularly struck by images from the Predator as it flew 10-hour missions over the inferno. Using radar technology that penetrated thick clouds of smoke, the Predator showed … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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