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USFA and DHS Deploy Wildfire Sensors to Mitigate and Manage Fires in Hawaii

Posted: March 8, 2024

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DHS S&T and USFA are working with a small business, N5 Sensors Inc., to develop and test the early wildfire detection technology that will be sent to Hawaii to assist FEMA and state and local emergency management partners. These wildfire sensors identify unusual concentrations or spikes in chemical gases and particulates as close to fire ignition as possible, providing 24-hour sensing and alerting capabilities.

WAILEA, MAUI, HAWAII — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), along with Hawaii’s Governor Josh Green announced the planned deployment of 80 wildfire sensors and 16 wind sensors across the Hawaiian Islands. The initiative reflects the department’s continued commitment to support long-term recovery efforts following the unprecedented August 2023 wildfires on Maui, Hawaii and driving innovative responses to extreme weather events. As wildfires become more common and severe, advanced sensors will allow first responders to suppress an initial blaze before it spreads and grant time needed for communities to make lifesaving evacuation decisions.

“In the aftermath of the devastating wildfires that struck Maui last summer, the Biden-Harris Administration and the Department of Homeland Security vowed not just to help Hawaii recover, but also to help safeguard it against the tragic destruction of another such fire,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “We continue to execute on that promise. Today we are deploying dozens of state-of-the-art fire and wind sensors in strategic locations across the Hawaiian Islands to enable local officials and firefighters to quickly target an initial blaze and initiate evacuation procedures. As wildfires and other climate change-driven challenges increase in frequency and severity, our department will continue working every day to develop innovative solutions and deploy them across the country for the safety and security of our communities.”

Photos from the event

Photo from the news conference on March 8, 2024
Photo from the news conference on March 8, 2024
Photo from the news conference on March 8, 2024
Photo from the news conference on March 8, 2024

“Wildfire risk continues to increase across the nation as we live through unprecedented heat waves and drought spurred by climate change,” said Administrator Criswell. “This collaboration between the U.S. Fire Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and S&T to deploy these new wildfire and wind sensors is a huge step forward in the work we’re doing to prevent and mitigate against future wildfires in Hawaii. Ultimately, this technology will help our firefighters respond faster, save lives, and keep residents safe from future fire events.”

“We welcome this early alert system and are grateful to our federal partners for providing these wildfire and wind sensors to help keep our residents safe,” said Governor Green. “We have seen how rapid and devastating wildfires can be. No community, in our islands or elsewhere, should ever have to experience so much suffering and loss. This technology will help to save the lives of Hawaii residents and visitors.”

“The wildfire challenge we face as a nation today, and the solutions to it, are complex,” said U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell. “Protecting our nation’s homelands against fire and hazardous threats requires continued collaborative research and development in the field of firefighting. The deployment of these sensors marks a major step forward in wildfire prevention and mitigation, enhancing our capabilities for predicting the incidence and spread of large-scale fires.”

“DHS S&T research and development is laying the groundwork for breakthroughs that have potential to improve fire safety and firefighting efforts,” said Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov, Undersecretary for Science and Technology. “The sensors deployed today are more effective than traditional optical cameras or thermal imaging sensors as they ‘sniff’ out the fires (e.g. gases and particulates) as soon as they start. Our announcement today reflects our continued commitment to utilizing the latest advancements in technology and data-driven insights to ensure communities have the resources needed to respond in real time to wildfires.

Hawaii will be the first location to receive the new Beta wildfire sensors developed by DHS S&T and USFA in coordination with small business N5 Sensors Inc. These wildfire detection sensors identify changes in conditions before wildfires start, providing 24-hour sensing and alerting capabilities. The sensors continuously transmit information and send an email or text notification to a pre-programmed contact when these components are detected. The system housing the sensors is small and compact, able to sit on a utility pole or a traffic light and can work in all weather conditions.

DHS S&T in collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and USFA, undertook wildfire sensor research after a successful five-year effort to test and develop flood sensors. In 2023, the wildfire sensor initiative deployed 200 initial Alpha phase pilot sensors in collaboration with state and local government stakeholders throughout the U.S and Canada. Those sensors continue to provide fire alerts and warnings and have collected over 1,000,000 hours of data in the field to enhance the Artificial Intelligence (AI) learning algorithms now being deployed in the Beta version, which requires less solar power to recharge, is equipped with wind sensors to increase the accuracy of wildfire location prediction and has better ability to operate in areas with limited cellular coverage. The Department will deploy 200 Beta wildfire sensors to high-risk areas across the U.S. in early 2024 for operational testing and evaluation, including the 80 sensors across the Hawaiian Islands.

DHS is driving federal efforts to prepare and equip communities to address the increased risk of fires and other natural disasters. In addition to deploying wildfire sensors, the department is advancing research to increase the effectiveness and reliability of fire warnings, develop new types of personal protective equipment to keep our firefighters safe, and work on new capabilities for tracking and predicting fire behavior, among other initiatives.

Learn more about the steps the department has taken to promote wildfire preparedness and resilience and S&T’s work on wildfire sensor technology.

Additional Media Contacts

Erika Engle
Press Secretary
Office of the Governor, state of Hawaii
Cell: 808-798-6081
Makana McClellan
Director of Communications
Office of the Governor, state of Hawaii
Cell: 808-265-0083
Laksmi Abraham
Director of Communications and Government Affairs
Office of the Mayor, county of Maui
Cell: 808-830-0416
Noel Boxer
External Affairs Officer
FEMA Region 9
Evrim Bunn
External Affairs Officer