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San Diego County Invests in New UC San Diego Fire Detection Networking

Higher-speed Network, New Cameras Expand County’s Response Capabilities

Published January 24, 2018

Plamen Vasilev (top) and Jim Hale during installation work on Big Black Mountain. The top of the tower shows the new PTZ camera, as well as a weather station, fixed cameras, and radios and antennas for the HPWREN/ASAPnet communication links.  Courtesy of HPWREN/SDSC

The County of San Diego Board of Supervisors voted this week to approve an investment in technology developed at the University of California San Diego that will improve the County’s fire detection and response capabilities. The County’s investment means the addition of new cameras and a boost in the network speed of hazard detection technology developed by the university.

The County unanimously approved $437,174 to make critical upgrades to the High-Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) and the Alert Wildfire network, operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) both at UC San Diego.

HPWREN and Alert Wildfire connect firefighters with real-time fire activity information across the San Diego County back country. The network of more than 60 fire stations utilizes more than 160 cameras to provide high-quality, on-demand time-lapse HD or better imagery that helps spot fire outbreaks, preventing them from reaching a catastrophic size. Many of these cameras have live video, time-lapse capabilities, low-light vision, and computerized image analysis vision to detect smoke, pan-tilt-zoom functions, and more. Fire officials have control of the cameras to monitor fires and triangulate on the location to better respond to fires at their earliest stages.

“Our firefighters use this network daily to communicate among stations and monitor conditions in times of quiet and to fight fires when they arise,” said San Diego Regional Fire Authority Chief Tony Mecham. “These improvements will provide a valuable upgrade in the ability of our back country fire stations to have high-speed internet access and share information during both routine and emergency incidents.” The upgraded backbone allows for the transfer of high-speed data with fire-fighting assets in areas without reliable commercial internet, and the cameras are remotely controlled from our 911 dispatch center.

Initially funded by the National Science Foundation, HPWREN was co-founded by Hans-Werner Braun, a research scientist with SDSC; and Frank Vernon, a seismologist with Scripps Oceanography who originally contacted Braun the year before about creating a faster, more reliable, and more comprehensive network as new technology allowed real-time gathering of data.

HPWREN currently collects images from 153 fixed and 19 pan/tilt/zoom cameras, for a total of 172 imagers. With a typical image collection rate of one frame per minute, amounting to almost a quarter million still images collected daily, or about 90 million per year. The long-term image data storage and significant computational resources, primarily provided and supported by UC San Diego’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information (Calit2), are publicly accessible via the HPWREN web site. This does not include image streams collected at much higher frame rates, e.g., during fires, which brings the total number of frames collected from the network’s cameras to well beyond 90 million per year. Images can be viewed at

The County of San Diego investment will allow critical upgrades to the HPWREN telemetry equipment. In 2000, HPWREN used state-of-the-art microwave telemetry of 45 Mbps (megabits per second) but technology has significantly improved in the intervening years. These investments will increase the bandwidth to 220-500 Mbps, providing significantly improved broadband speeds allowing for better coverage of the county and improved internet service connecting 62 remote fire stations in San Diego County.

Additionally, five new locations will be added to the network, atop mountains at Sierra Rojo, Cowles Mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, North Peak, and White Star. These locations will now receive increased hazard detection coverage with high-resolution, pan-tilt-zoom cameras.

Time-lapse video of the Alert SDG&E Cameras and HPWREN cameras operating during the Lilac Fire.

“Scripps Institution of Oceanography is committed to research programs that support the community's resilience to hazards,” said Margaret Leinen, vice chancellor for Marine Sciences at UC San Diego and Director at Scripps. “As the County of San Diego and State of California face a longer fire season and continued impacts on public safety, I am encouraged by the leadership the Board of Supervisors has shown with its investment to enable this region to be more responsive to wildfire threats than ever before.”

This investment by the County of San Diego follows upgrades to the network announced last November by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E). The 15 high-definition Alert SDG&E Cameras are installed in San Diego’s most fire-prone areas, accessible to fire agencies and the general public at

“In an era of more extreme weather conditions, we have a duty to arm the brave firefighters sent to the front lines with the kind of accurate and timely information this technology will provide,” said San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who along with Chairwoman Kristin Gaspar brought forward this request.

The UC San Diego system has proven to be an extremely useful resource during fire emergencies, including the recent Lilac Fire. County staff at the Emergency Operations Center had immediate visibility of the fire from two different Alert Wildfire camera angles within seconds of the fire being reported. Being able to see the fire and its movement patterns can provide the necessary intelligence for fire officials to make quick response decisions.

About SDSC

As an Organized Research Unit of UC San Diego, SDSC is considered a leader in data-intensive computing and cyberinfrastructure, providing resources, services, and expertise to the national research community, including industry and academia. Cyberinfrastructure refers to an accessible, integrated network of computer-based resources and expertise, focused on accelerating scientific inquiry and discovery. SDSC supports hundreds of multidisciplinary programs spanning a wide variety of domains, from earth sciences and biology to astrophysics, bioinformatics, and health IT. SDSC’s petascale Comet supercomputer is a key resource within the National Science Foundation’s XSEDE (Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) program.

About Scripps Oceanography
Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of more than 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $195 million from federal, state, and private sources.