New Cameras Installed on SCE Telecom Tower to Monitor Wildfire Activity

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New Cameras Installed on SCE Telecom Tower to Monitor Wildfire Activity

The technology for the Orange County cameras will help pinpoint wildfire locations and improve response times.

Fire monitoring technology is installed on an SCE tower. Credit: Roberto Lazarte

This camera located on Santiago Peak in Orange County will monitor potential fire activity. Credit: Ernesto Sanchez

A fire monitoring camera streams an image of Santiago Peak.

Fire monitoring cameras and a weather station are displayed before installation on an SCE tower. Photo Credit: Ernesto Sanchez

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Friday, May 25, 2018 - 12:00pm

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The Orange County Fire Authority is now part of a growing number of fire agencies that use a high-tech approach to monitor wildfire activity. Recently, six cameras and a weather station were installed on a Southern California Edison telecommunications tower located on Santiago Peak, the highest point in Orange County. 

The cameras are being monitored by the fire authority’s watch volunteers and SCE in Orange County. Brian Norton, the fire authority’s division chief, says the technology allows them to investigate potential wildfire activity before firefighters are even dispatched to the scene. 

“Two of the cameras are capable of panning, zooming and tilting which gives us the ability of validating smoke reports,” he said. “We can also put our fire watch patrols in front of a bank of monitors here in Orange County to spot where fires are occurring and respond to the right place.”

SCE installed the cameras and weather station on Santiago Peak and connected them to the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network. The network is a UC San Diego project based at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The network also partners with the Alert Wildfire project hosted by the University of Nevada. Orange, San Diego, Riverside and Santa Barbara counties — including Lake Tahoe and parts of Nevada — all participate in this wildfire camera program.

SCE’s Grid Services handled the technical side of the camera installation, which included the ability to send live images through SCE’s transport network. The images travel through microwave and fiber optic networks that connect with specialized equipment and are streamed on the wildfire camera program. 

“It was critical to facilitate the chain of data transfer from the mountain as soon as possible, since wildfire season is now all year round, and we successfully accomplished that objective,” said Aaron Shearin, an SCE engineer who oversaw this part of the project.

Michael O’Connell lives in a high-fire-risk area in South Orange County. The SCE customer also works for Irvine Ranch Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages 30,000 acres in Orange County and has been a strong supporter of wildfire detection technology.

“We are excited about this project, because it will hopefully make a difference in the ability to prevent large fires, by spotting them early when they do start, and keep them from spreading. Every time the Santa Ana winds blow, we get anxious, so we keep a ‘go bag’ packed at all times,” O’Connell said.  

SCE contributed $100,000 to help expedite the installation of these cameras and to fund similar Orange County projects in the future. In addition, SCE is installing weather stations to monitor high fire risk areas within its service territory and plans to have more than 100 of them operating by this fall.

Donald Daigler, SCE director of Business Resiliency, says the utility is also looking at other funding opportunities to enhance fire prevention and safety efforts to protect customers and employees.

“We understand that environmental changes have substantially increased wildfire activity in California and is now the ‘new normal’ across the state,” he said. “This type of technology is an important resource for firefighters and will help them better locate and gain control of wildfires faster.” 

The Orange County Fire Authority and the utility have had a strong partnership for decades. Norton says SCE’s commitment to this project played an instrumental role.

“Southern California Edison saw the value in this as a regional asset and provided the much-needed infrastructure, specifically the tower access to install the cameras to make this a success,” he said.