A fire detection and security system in one

March/April 2001 Fire & Safety

The single biggest threat to the forestry industry makes early fire warning an absolute necessity. Wildfires in commercial forests worldwide result in the incurrence of tremendous financial losses by forestry companies on an annual basis.

In response, Intervid, in conjunction with the South African Forest Industry has created a sophisticated system of digital imaging techniques that provides a widespread, continuous, early warning wildfire detection network. Headed by Dr Gavin Hough, Intervid's development team based in Durban has perfected the use of machine vision software.

The company links a series of strategically placed remote computer controlled video camera stations to state-of-the-art software. These detection systems not only identify the tell tale signs of smoke (during the day) and light variation (during the night), but also pinpoint the exact location of any threat, ensuring rapid response from fire fighting agencies and the complete protection the client's most valuable asset.

The product

SAFFIRE is an early warning, automated wildfire detection system that eliminates the need for costly, manned wildfire observation posts. Remote, computer controlled cameras continually scan the forest and transmit live video footage via microwave link to a central control room. SAFFIRE motion detection software analyses the video footage and wildfire events are automatically alarmed on.

Currently operating in the South African commercial forest industry, the system is able to monitor contiguous forest areas of up to 150 000 ha from a single control centre, making it the largest single wild fire detection system of its kind.

The system is equally well suited to detecting wildfires in semi-rural residential developments. In fact, SAFFIRE is suited to all industries operating under threat from wildfire, and provides an ideal platform to increase the effectiveness of protection agencies required to react to wildfires.

SAFFIRE in action

The program runs 24 h per day in the central operations centre, and requires operators to use only the computer mouse to immediately obtain the following information:

* The range and bearing of the fire from the camera position (this info is passed on to the aerial fire fighting coordinator)

* The location of the fire in relation to the digital terrain model and relief map for the area.

* Cross bearings if the fire is visible to more than one camera position.

* Current weather information generated by automatic weather stations situated at each camera site is continuously relayed to the operations centre.

Live video feedback is made available to the fire management team who may base themselves at the operations centre during a wildfire event.

The system is designed to respond equally well to changes that are too slow or subtle for the human eye. This is particularly useful when the smoke is emerging from a hollow or a valley where there is no direct line of sight viewing from any of the local lookout towers. In this case a blink comparator is used which switches between live video and reference image of the same scene recorded a few minutes previously.

Revolving dome cameras with remote PTZ control continuously record live video of the surrounding area. When the software identifies a fire, an alarm is automatically triggered. The alarm requires the operator to visually confirm the fire or acknowledge a known source of the event - for example the smoke stack of a sawmill. The data recorder logs all event alarms and operator responses, while a multi-camera digital recorder coupled to 'postmortem' software stores the continuous live video for later 'instant event recall' if necessary.

Flicker Optics detects motion that is too subtle for the human eye to perceive. Dynamic Self Masking, deployed at night, enables the system to learn known sources of light emanating from farms, towns and national roads etc, and not to false alarm on these. The software detects new sources of light within and out of the masked area.

In the event of a fire, the operator simply clicks the mouse pointer on the highlighted area to automatically receive the following information:

* Range and bearing of the fire from a specified point such as an operational airfield.

* GPS co-ordinates of the fire area.

* The location of the fire in context with the digital and orthographic maps of the monitored area.

The camera closest to the fire also provides live video feedback to a fire management team who are able to make use of Intervid's Treesave software, that allows for rules-based decision support pertaining to specific scenarios.

The strength of the system lies in the fact that it is PC based and uses off-the-shelf modular components. The ruggedness of the hardware coupled with the ability of the remote camera sites to operate on solar and wind generated power makes it ideal for forestry conditions.

Furthermore, Intervid's 3D Maplock location software interacting with the digital terrain model of the monitored area makes the system suitable for relatively flat as well as mountainous terrain. In addition, the company's full maintenance rental agreements, which include system upgrades, provide clients with a stress-free state-of-the-art wildfire detection system without the need for costly capital and labour intensive projects.

All capital expenditure incurred during the set up of the operation is borne by Intervid. Clients are provided with a package deal that includes full maintenance, replacement and continuous upgrading of the equipment. Professional operations and maintenance staff are provided, managed and paid by the company. In addition, built-in alarms alert management staff if the operations centre does not respond to alarm events.

The system also allows for the added advantage of being able to monitor vehicle movement in sensitive areas, enabling forestry managers to be alerted to unauthorised entry into these areas.

Future developments

Clients seeing the benefits of the system are now finding novel applications for the extended use of the SAFFIRE system. In a SAFCOL plantation near Nelspruit, a new control centre is being established for a further eight cameras. Environmentally sensitive areas will also be monitored to provide special protection for the areas valuable cycads.

The system also allows for regular reports to be submitted to foresters concerning unauthorised vehicle access to lands, as well as information that has yielded more efficient poaching and security control in the timberlands. Opportunities for office security, perimeter alarms and 24 hour-manned surveillance of outlying district offices are also being explored.

Intervid Wildfire Systems General Manager, Steve Boyes, comments that exciting opportunities are also being developed offshore. Cutting edge technology such as the development of the high resolution, panoramic web camera system, will bring considerable advantages to Intervid clients as it is applied to the Wildfire Detection Systems.

For further details contact Intervid on tel: (031) 764 9700.

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