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Watching for Forest Fires
a&s International 2008/3/18

Forest fires present peril to the environment, infrastructure and human lives. Most of them can be prevented or considerably minimized with timely detection and a fast response. Great efforts for technical developments, such as remote surveillance, are made to prevent forest fires more efficiently. Forest fires present peril to the environment, infrastructure and human lives. Most of them can be prevented or considerably minimized with timely detection and a fast response. Great efforts for technical developments, such as remote surveillance, are made to prevent forest fires more efficiently.

With the aggravation of global warming, climate change significantly influences ecological systems. The average global surface temperature has increased 0.9 degrees Celsius since 1960. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts it will get even hotter, increasing from 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius, during the 21st century. Extreme weather and failure to reach environmental equilibrium is expected to increase forest fires.

According to a report, forest fires, including using fires to clear tropical rain forests, will halve the world forest stand by the year 2030. In Europe, up to 10,000 square kilometers of vegetation are destroyed by fire every year, with another 100,0000 square kilometers in North America and Russia. ¨Forest video surveillance is a niche but fast growing market. Southern Europe and California are the most important among the main markets, because of the extremely high number of fires, particularly during the summertime," said Raffaella Amoroso, Marketing Manager of Fluidmesh Networks.

With the observable risks, forest fire surveillance demands substantial attention. ¨It is very new, including new technologies and new requirements," said Wai King Wong, Country Manager, Axis Communications Australia and New Zealand. Forest fire surveillance plays a vital role in all spheres of forestry. Advanced solutions include video surveillance systems integrating remotely controlled video cameras to monitor multiple sites. A remote monitoring center is equipped with video presentation and video storage devices, which are connected by wired or wireless Internet to remote video cameras.

The cameras usually require zoom, so monitoring staff can easily inspect areas. Axis offers a dome camera with powerful 35x optical and 12x digital zoom, enabling long distance tracking of moving objects and great detail. As infrared cameras typically have lower resolution and are less durable, digital CCD cameras are mainly deployed for forest surveillance. Moreover, weatherproof housing, high resolution and vibration resistance are required for forest fire cameras.

Video Analytics on the Way

IMS Research forecast the world market for video smoke detection (VSD) to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 38.8 percent, reaching US$36 million by 2011. VSD is expected to become an indispensable solution for detecting the start of a forest fire before it causes any real damage. ¨Utilizing video analytics software for forest surveillance is required, as it helps the authority to constantly monitor and provide accurate alerts on security breaches and forest fires, et cetera," said Kevin Lee, Director of APAC Sales and Marketing for Seagate Technology.

VSD features comprehensive monitoring of large areas with a rotating, high-resolution camera system and automatic recognition of smoke clouds by computeraided image processing. According to an IMS Research report, most VSD technology has been server-based, but the software is increasingly being embedded into video surveillance devices, such as network cameras. This is expected to bring solution costs down, making it more affordable. IMS predicts that as suppliers gain further legislative approval and market experience, VSD will increasingly be used.

A solution from axonX embeds fire and smoke detection analytics onto IP cameras. The camera is then networked to a network video recorder (NVR), where video and alarms are recorded. It is capable of detecting and triggering alarms for events including flames, reflected fire light, smoke plumes, ambient smoke and intrusion detection. ¨We use standard IP transmission protocols such as Internet or cellular wireless to communicate alarms and video," said Mac Mottley, CEO of axonX. Once an alarm occurs, the camera can be signaled through contact closures or by digitally streamed transmissions over IP.

axonX is conducting a pilot project with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. There are fire towers located throughout Maryland forests, which typically have a small building attached. axonX will install eight IP cameras on a tower and place the NVR in the building. Mottley said, ¨We are looking at a wireless cellular communication solution. When a smoke cloud is detected, the camera records it to initiate the response."

¨Nonetheless, the system has not been widely applied because we just finished indoor testing of the network cameras and have not tested extensively outdoors yet," Mottley said. ¨It is hard to light a forest fire to test your system. That is why working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is so important, because they can place us in a tower that overlooks an area that does controlled burns."

Axis is also dedicated to developing cameras with video analytics. Yet accuracy and reliability concerns for automatic VSD remain due to weather conditions, light levels, and so on. Meanwhile, the processing power required is still rather high, Wong said.


Long-term archiving and analysis of video are growing trends in the field. The need for large capacity and reliable hard drives — with data integrity being an issue of utmost importance — is key to the success of a forest surveillance installation.

For surveillance storage, all the cameras stream video back to the central monitoring station, which utilizes NVRs or video management software to monitor the cameras and record their footage. ¨With the usage of video analytics or intelligent video surveillance in such applications, high capacity storage is often required to enable the recording at high resolutions and frame rates," Lee said. ¨Superior hard drives are thus critical."

Seagateˇs hard drives provide SATA storage for multidrive enterprise network surveillance applications, and for higher-end applications like IVS and IP surveillance. The hard drives can store up to a terabyte, with higher resolution and longer archival periods for outdoor surveillance, digital video recorders. Energy saving technology minimizes the amount of power required. The drives can operate in extreme environments subject to temperature, humidity, altitude and vibration.

Lee said, ¨IP will be the most suitable application for forest surveillance, (since) the requirement of storage will be important as a backup plan in case of network failure.〃 With the large amount of bandwidth required for video transmission, storage on the edge becomes much more essential, allowing compressed video to be transferred over the network as needed, instead of in real time.

Transmission Technology

Forest fire surveillance relies on network connectivity since the video streams from cameras in remote areas must arrive to a control room many kilometers away. Several transimssion methods like wired, wireless, mobile, satellite and microwave featuring different applications are available.

Dual-frequency wireless mesh technology by Fluidmesh is specially designed for video and data streaming, transmitting simultaneously on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz range. The wireless mesh architecture enables reliable and redundant networks, where every unit can route packets around physical obstacles, sources of interference or low-quality links. It also has an IP 68-rated submersible enclosure capable of working in harsh environments. With low power consumption below 10 watts, the product usually incorporates solar and battery-powered solutions. This allows for easy installation in environments with electricity. ¨Using a mesh network can greatly increase the reliability of the system, providing multiple paths to reach the control room and recording site," Amoroso said.

Mobile networks — meaning 3-G networks such as GPRS, CDMA or WLAN — are another transmission solution for real-time forest fire surveillance. ¨In Australia, we are using Next G cards with the 2100 MHz 3G technologies run by Telstra, delivering turbo-charged speeds for data and downloads,〃 Wong said. ¨The card has been inserted on the router devices or routers, linking access to the cameras."

Monitoring companies can automatically dispatch resources to the exact location while providing important real-time information for effective planning and preparation. Mobility plays a major role, as the entire system can be taken down in five minutes and deployed at another location in five minutes.

Additionally, satellite and microwave transmissions with good bandwidth and quality image resolution are suitable for monitoring forests remotely. However, microwaves are highly susceptible to attenuation by the atmosphere and limited to line of sight transmission links.

Solar Power and Easy Installation

Forest fire surveillance is limited by the extensive area that needs to be covered for power or communication infrastructure. As a result, Wong said, energy supply is fundamental and crucial to carrying on surveillance systems.

Solar panels generating electric current from sunshine provide an effective method to operate surveillance systems. The current flows to a device that regulates the voltage and current and also controls the charging of the battery bank. However, it is difficult to produce energy with solar panels alone, due to unpredictable weather. The best solution to power the cameras and transmission devices would be to combine solar panels with wind turbines or batteries. Furthermore, maintaining low power consumption of devices is imperative as well. ¨Currently, we have done mobility solutions deployed with mobile networks and solar panel systems," Wong said.

For an easier installation and better connectivity, ¨a partner we have has designed the camera in the housing and customized the poles," Wong said. ¨Basically, every component needed is configured in one device. You can bring the pole to wherever you want and plug in the solar panel. Once the camera is on, you are automatically connected to the server."

Although there are no specific market figures or statistics showing market size of forest fire surveillance, in almost every country which encounters high risk of forest fires are investing the technical development of forest fire surveillance systems. ¨If a relatively stable well-performing system can be designed, and the communication and power issues resolved, then there would be a quite substantial worldwide market," Mottley said.

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