Council OKs contract for new AI wildfire tool


Austin Monitor 

City Council on October 5 approved negotiation and execution of a contract for what Austin Energy describes as a powerful new tool to aid the utility in wildfire detection and response. The utility says it will use Pano AI technology to provide Austin Energy crews and emergency first responders with up-to-the-minute information to quickly respond to wildfire threats while protecting lives, property and the environment.

Austin Energy plans to contract for the service for up to five years for a total contract amount not to exceed $3,225,600.

“The Pano AI system combines advanced hardware, artificial intelligence and other software to form a network of ultra-high-definition, 360-degree cameras atop high vantage points that give first responders an added edge in wildfire detection,” a statement from Austin Energy read. “The system’s AI technology will continuously scan the Austin Energy service area for any smoke related to a potential wildfire.”

If a wildfire is detected, the AI camera triangulates the exact location of the fire and then Pano AI alerts the 911 call center to activate the closest fire department. The camera’s livestream video feed will also be accessible by the departments to have real-time situational awareness, the utility reports.

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter represents one of the areas of Travis County most likely to be impacted by wildfires. After the vote approving the consent agenda, including the contract, she said, “I want to take a moment to highlight an item that I believe reflects true innovation and cross-departmental collaboration to prevent and address wildfires in our community.” She added, “With wildfires, every minute matters, and this investment will ensure that we deploy lifesaving resources as quickly as possible. Thank you to Austin Energy and Austin Fire Department for their efforts to protect our community from the devastating effects of a potential wildfire.”

CoreLogic, a financial services company, has ranked cities in the U.S. according to their risk of wildfire impacting homes. The first four cities named were all in California, and Austin was ranked as No. 5.

Austin Energy’s service area extends past Austin’s city limits into several surrounding counties, so the camera coverage will extend into those counties, reaching the entire service territory. Once installed, the Pano AI system will survey nearly all of Travis County, as well as parts of Hays, Bastrop, Williamson and Burnet counties. The early alert system will aid Austin Energy in the determination of a proactive power shutoff if needed during a wildfire.

The utility became aware of AI camera technology through working with the Texas Public Power Corridor Committee, a group of public utilities along Interstate 35 including Austin Energy, the Lower Colorado River Authority, New Braunfels Utilities and CPS Energy in San Antonio.

Austin Monitor, an online, nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit publication that covers local government and politics in and around Austin.