Council to Consider $3 Million Five-Year Contract for Wildfire Prevention Tech

AI will track fires

A wildfire traveling through trees (Image via Getty Images)

After Mayor Kirk Watson declared a state of disaster August 15 due to rampant wildfires, Council is considering a major investment in wildfire prevention to the tune of $3 million at its Thursday meeting. Austin is uniquely vulnerable to wildfires because of extensive damage to the tree canopy from the winter storm this year, plus extended drought conditions that Central Texas has been experiencing for months.

To address that vulnerability, Austin Energy wants to contract with Pano AI Inc. for an early wildfire detection product that uses AI to spot fires starting. The initial term of the contract would be two years, with an optional extension of three years. The total cost for five years would be around $500,000 per year, and would become a line item in AE's budget, which Council approves.

Pano's product installs mounted cameras on high vantage points that continuously scan the landscape using 360-degree cameras and artificial intelligence to spot wildfires within a 15-mile radius. When smoke or fire is detected, Pano sends images with zoom and the exact location to designated entities. AI can detect movement patterns of smoke and flames that pinpoint the source within 200 feet. AE told the Chronicle that Pano will then notify the 911 call center, which will sound the alarm to the closest fire department. Since the city of Austin is only 50% of the Austin Energy service area, the camera are expected to almost completely cover Travis County as well as parts of Hays, Bastrop, Williamson, and Burnet counties. AE has been working with Austin Fire to determine where to position the cameras, which have livestream feeds that will be accessible by the Austin Fire Department and also county Emergency Service District fire departments, which serve areas outside the city.

"The early minutes of a fire are critical, and initial response time determines the ultimate threat to lives and property," Pano's website states. "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." The Council memo states that this technology is "critical to preserving life, property, and assets within the Austin Energy service territory."

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Artificial Intelligence, Kirk Watson, Austin Energy, Austin Fire

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