Navigating nature’s hazards with Indji Systems

June 26, 2024

Indji Systems Product Manager Mark Carniello talks about their advanced technology for hazard detection and its impact on safety

Can you introduce Indji Systems and explain what it does?

The name “Indji” is derived from an indigenous language from Western Australia, meaning “close to,” which encapsulates our mission.

We inform people when things they care about are close to potential hazards.

For example, if you manage a power network, you need to know about threats near your power lines.

I’ve been with Indji since its inception.

Indji began as a research and development project in the early 2000s, where I was the project leader.

Initially, we collaborated with various rural fire services, police departments, and other agencies across Australia to understand their challenges and find solutions.

Many of our current offerings were born out of this project.

Our first clients were electrical transmission companies.

Here in Australia, the network isn’t a dense mesh like in many other countries.

If one power line goes down, it can have a significant impact on the network.

These companies need advance notice if there are fires near their critical transmission corridors so they can reconfigure the network in time.

Transmission lines are typically the large steel towers, and while these don’t burn easily, the dense smoke from a nearby fire can cause the conductors to trip out.

The ionized particles in the smoke can cause shorts, making the line trip out even if the towers themselves aren’t damaged.

When you see transmission lines behaving erratically from a control room in a major city, knowing it’s caused by a nearby fire is extremely useful information.

You initially worked with utilities.

How did Indji Systems expand its focus to other areas?

Our initial product was developed for Australia to address a very specific problem: managing a large, sparse transmission network affected by fires.

We later expanded to include other hazards like lightning and severe weather.

We identified a similar need on the west coast of North America.

Coincidentally, around the time we were developing our solution, California was experiencing severe wildfires.

San Diego was on the brink of a blackout because they lost some transmission lines.

We initially planned an exploratory trip to talk to various companies in North America about the potential usefulness of our product.

This included not only the USA but also Western Canada, which also faces severe wildfires and has extensive transmission networks.

The response was overwhelmingly positive.

We launched Indji Watch in the region earlier than expected, as they were eager to adopt our solution.

This marked our entry into the North American market, where we have since expanded our customer base among utility companies, especially in regions with conditions similar to those in Australia.

We first entered the US market around 2009.

Since then, we’ve expanded our services to include many renewable energy generation sites, such as wind and solar farms, across North America.

These sites also care about wildfires, but for different reasons.

I recall visiting one of our clients in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Despite Oregon’s reputation for misty, rainy weather, they experienced a particularly dry summer a few years ago.

The wind site I visited was engulfed in thick smoke, reducing visibility to less than half a kilometer.

The site manager expressed two main concerns.

First, she was worried about the safety of her staff performing maintenance work outside, inhaling smoke in such conditions.

Second, she needed to know the proximity of the fires.

Since visibility was so poor, it was hard to determine if the fires were 30 miles away or just down the road, making it difficult to decide whether to evacuate the site.

The terrain in that area is quite hilly with few roads, complicating evacuation plans.

The site manager needed accurate, real-time information to ensure the safety of her team.

This highlighted a critical need for wildfire awareness at renewable energy sites.

We started offering our wildfire information in a form tailored for staff safety—helping managers decide when to send their teams home and ensuring their safe evacuation.

Now, both transmission networks and renewable energy sites use our services.

Some renewable energy sites, like solar farms, don’t have daily staff presence.

Clients want to be aware of any fires near their sites, even if no one is there daily.

It’s all about awareness—knowing where fires are and how close they are to critical infrastructure.

That’s the core of what we provide.

How does Indji Systems incorporate NASA’s satellite data for wildfire detection?

When we first started, we knew very little about monitoring fires.

Unlike other phenomena like wind or lightning, which are relatively easy to track with weather stations and detection networks, fires are different.

There’s no single point where you can get comprehensive, real-time information about fires in a given area.

We use two primary sources for fire data.

First, we rely on fire agencies.

When someone reports a fire, it goes into their system, and we can sometimes access that data.

However, this information is not always up-to-date, especially in remote areas where fires may go unreported.

This is where satellite information becomes incredibly valuable.

Satellites can detect hotspots and provide timely updates, even in remote regions.

Fire agencies might report a fire but often don’t provide continuous updates about its size, direction, or progression.

Satellite data fills this gap by offering frequent observations.

This information allows our users to make informed decisions.

They can determine if a fire is moving away from their infrastructure, which means it’s not a threat, or if it’s approaching, which requires immediate action.

So, incorporating satellite data, such as that from NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS), has been crucial for providing accurate and timely wildfire information to our clients.

Polar-orbiting satellites, like the ones from NASA, orbit the Earth over the poles and return to the same spot approximately every six hours.

There are multiple satellites in this constellation, so sometimes they might pass over a location within an hour, but other times it might take up to eight hours for the next pass.

While their revisit time can be inconsistent, these satellites are designed to detect fires and have high-resolution sensors capable of identifying even smaller fires.

On the other hand, geostationary satellites, which are typically used for weather forecasts, take images very frequently—every 10 minutes.

These satellites are positioned about 30,000 kilometers above the Earth in a fixed orbit, providing continuous coverage over the same area.

However, they have lower resolution compared to polar-orbiting satellites because they were not specifically designed to detect fires but to monitor weather conditions.

We combine data from both sources to enhance our fire detection capabilities.

The polar-orbiting satellites provide high-resolution data on fire locations, while the geostationary satellites offer frequent updates, albeit at a lower resolution.

If a polar-orbiting satellite detects a fire and then doesn’t pass over again for several hours, we can use the geostationary satellite data to monitor that area.

Even though the resolution is lower, it can still indicate ongoing hotspots, allowing users to know there is still activity in that location.

What do you see as the future of wildfire detection technology, and how is Indji Systems preparing for it?

When we started, we couldn’t get a lot of useful information from fire agencies due to limited technology and information flow.

Over the past decade and a half, this has improved significantly.

Now, we receive excellent information from many agencies.

The mindset has changed from focusing solely on putting out fires to understanding the importance of sharing information with relevant stakeholders, such as power companies.

The advent of mobile technology and better networks has greatly enhanced field updates, and this trend will continue.

We are getting more timely and accurate information on fires, both from agencies and satellites.

There are more satellites, including private ones, being launched to detect fires, providing more comprehensive data.

Additionally, there is a lot of research being done on extracting valuable information from satellite imagery.

Ground-based systems, like the Alert California network of wildfire detection cameras, have also improved.

Initially, these systems were seen as not very useful, but with AI detection of smoke in images, they have become highly effective.

Overall, the future holds promise for more accurate and timely information, better situational awareness, and continued advancements in both satellite and ground-based fire detection technologies.

It’s an exciting time for wildfire management technology.

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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