State-of-the-art technology unveiled to help fight wildfires

In advance of San Diego’s wildfire season, the City of San Diego and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Incorporated entered into a new partnership that makes San Diego the first city in the United States to use state-of-the-art technology to help firefighters obtain real-time information about how a fire spreads. The technology includes equipment that will enhance communication among first responders.

The first phase of the collaboration allows San Diego firefighters to ride along on a General Atomics manned aircraft outfitted with sensors focused on gathering critical intelligence on fire behavior and location. This information can be obtained from outside the operational area of other aircraft and then relayed to officials on the ground to ensure that fire personnel are sent to areas where they can be the most effective. This technology can be utilized to gain critical information during a variety of emergencies and is an all hazard intelligence gathering resource that can operate 24/7.

“There is no greater threat to life and property in this City than wildland fire,” said Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy. The question I probably get the most is, where is the fire now? And that’s very difficult to ascertain. This partnership with General Atomics is going to be able to provide that information to all of us real-time.”

A future phase of the partnership will outfit the aircraft with communications technology that allows the aircraft to act as a roaming cellular network. It will provide first responders with the ability to communicate with each other in areas with limited network coverage or when cellular towers have been damaged.

“This training is a game-changer. Because of General Atomics, we’re going to be able to leverage technology to keep all of our communities safer,” Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said.

General Atomics has used similar technology overseas in military applications for years to provide intelligence and reconnaissance information in deployed operations.

“We can stay up with these sensors now for maybe three, four, five, six hours and that’s very important,” said Linden Blue, CEO of General Atomics Aeronautical. “The sensor payloads that we’re talking about are on the one hand video payloads that are based on optical wavelengths that you can see with your eyes. Then different infrared wavelengths that you can’t see with your eyes but they (sensors) can see through smoke pretty well and see in the dark. And you also have ground imaging radar capability.”

 San Diego is the first city in the country to use this proof-of-concept solution.