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City launches cutting-edge technology to detect and respond to catastrophic wildfires: 'The early minutes of a fire are critical'

"This is an important step for the safety of our community."

"This is an important step for the safety of our community."

Photo Credit: iStock

As wildfires become more frequent and more intense, a big part of combating these destructive events is identifying them before they grow out of control. Austin, Texas, is now using an artificial intelligence tool to help enhance its future wildfire detection and response.

The tool, called Pano AI, is described on its website as "actionable intelligence for wildfire management."

"The early minutes of a fire are critical, and initial response time determines the ultimate threat to lives and property," the site says. "With most wildfires detected by bystanders and reported via 911, it can take hours to detect a fire, verify its exact location and size, and dispatch first responders." 

Rather than rely on human reporting, the technology will, in theory, allow Austin Energy to be alerted as soon as a fire breaks out thanks to a network of high-def 360-degree cameras that continually scan wooded areas for smoke. The technology will also determine whether power must be shut off during a wildfire.

"This is an important step for the safety of our community and the reliability of our electric system," Austin Energy wildfire program manager Chris Vetromile told KVUE. "Climate change is fueling extreme temperatures and this program will save crucial time in responding to wildfires, helping safeguard our community and enhancing our ability to provide uninterrupted electrical service."

Austin Energy signed a five-year contract with Pano AI — if it proves successful, we could soon see many more cities embrace similar technology to help mitigate the effects of wildfires and other types of extreme weather events.

Over the past year, heat waves, high winds, and lack of rain in Texas have all exacerbated wildfire conditions throughout the state. Wildfires not only destroy lives and property — they also spread smoke far and wide, which can result in numerous health problems. In addition, a recent study found that they may also release cancer-causing metals in the soil into the air.

All in all, it is a good thing that at least one city is using every technological tool at its disposal to prevent these fires as much as possible.

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