As we so tragically learned in 1991, the threat of catastrophic wildfire is nothing new in Oakland and the impact of such an event would be felt in all corners of the city.
Last week, Oakland Fire Chief Dr. Reginald Freeman announced the official launch of a pilot agreement between the Oakland Fire Department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (DHS S&T), TechNexus Venture Collaborative, and technology company N5 Sensors that will allow the City to utilize technology that may detect signs of wildfires.
“Understanding the year-round threat, the Oakland Fire Department is committed to seeking out any and all strategies to prevent wildfires within our jurisdiction,” said Chief Freeman. “Whether it’s by ensuring we have adequate staffing, developing new regional partnerships, acquiring new equipment and apparatus, or through new piloting of new technology that may prevent the loss of properties and save lives. Early detection and suppression of fire is critical in the prevention of catastrophic wildfire.”
In 2022, Chief Freeman began conversations with the representatives from the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate about having Oakland participate in a pilot program to test the use of real time fire-detection sensors, like those currently being placed across Oregon in partnership with the Oregon Hazards Lab, and in parts of eastern Canada. In early, 2023, the Oakland City Council approved a resolution authorizing the City to move forward with the planning and implementation pilot program, known as N5SHIELD, in partnership with technology company N5 Sensors. Today the pilot program in Oakland is a reality.
“Climate change and extreme weather are lengthening wildfire seasons – and putting more communities and properties at risk. In a world with these rapidly changing environmental threats, we work every day so that everyone can access the right information at the right time to stay safe,” said Abhishek Motayed, CEO of N5 Sensors.
Over the last several weeks, in coordination with the Oakland Fire Department, staff from the City of Oakland’s Department of Transportation Electrical Services Division installed 10 wildfire sensors in strategic locations across Oakland’s wildfire urban interface.
The anticipated duration of the pilot is twenty-four (24) months. The pilot project will monitor air quality changes only, there is no audio, visual, or other surveillance capability with the technology being deployed. There is no cost to the city associated with the acquisition of the equipment, maintenance, or use of the technology during the pilot phase.
HOW IT WILL WORK:
• Ten (10) air quality sensors will be installed throughout the wildland urban interface area of Oakland. The sensors will continuously sample air quality (no audio or visual sensors) and transmit back to the vendor.
• There will be a web-based dashboard showing the status of all the sensors in real time. The vendor will email and/or text OFD dispatch whenever the sensors are alerting for a fire. This project is testing whether these sensors and associated alert algorithm work and whether this technology can be used in an urban interface setting.
• When their system is alerting for a fire, OFD will receive a notification through text/email and on the dashboard projected on a wall monitor in fire dispatch.
In 2020 alone, fires burned over 4 million acres, claiming thousands of homes, and taking over 30 human lives. In terms of acreage burned from wildfires, the last several years in California have been some of the worst in history. Climate change and extreme weather are lengthening wildfire seasons – and putting more communities and properties at risk.
However, due to the Oakland Fire Department’s pre-planning, comprehensive vegetation management and annual inspection program, pre-positioning of wildland apparatus, and the commitment of tens of thousands of Oaklanders to create and maintain defensible space, the city has been spared from these types of catastrophic events since 1991. The Oakland Fire Department has one of the most comprehensive wildfire prevention programs in California. Annually it directly inspects 25,000+ private and city-owned parcels, conducts year round fuel mitigation on thousands of acres in the hills, executes many miles of roadside clearing projects, and deploys one of the largest herd of goats in the state to mitigate and remove hard to reach, hazardous combustible fuels.
Thankfully, Entities like N5 are starting to implement technological solutions to reduce wildfire spread using sensors that can detect and warn fire departments and communities of deadly blazes in the incipient phase. The goal of this partnership is to identify where technology solutions can be brought in line with other commercially available products to advance Oakland’s citywide efforts to prevent wildfires.