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Wildfire cameras in Pitkin County OK’d for this summer, could help insurance market

Wildfire cameras in Pitkin County OK’d for this summer, could help insurance market

Wildfire cameras in Pitkin County OK’d for this summer, could help insurance market
Jake Andersen, vice president of operations for the Aspen Fire Department, reviews live feeds in August 2021 from cameras installed around Pitkin County connected to artificial intelligence that surveys wildfires.
Jason Oslander/The Aspen Times

A technologically advanced pilot program that began last summer to monitor wildfire activity in Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley could eventually make it easier for some homeowners in the area to obtain insurance coverage, sources said Tuesday.

Pitkin County commissioners gave the thumbs up Tuesday for the pilot program — which uses constantly rotating high-resolution cameras to detect potential wildfires — to continue this summer.

“I see absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t want to continue this,” said Chairman Patti Clapper. “It’s great information and we appreciate the effort.”

The program — run by a Silicon Valley-based company called Pano AI — cost Pitkin County taxpayers nothing last year thanks to a donation from Red Mountain homeowner Jerry Hosier. Commissioner Greg Bushman thanked Hocher on Tuesday for the effort.

This year, however, the Aspen Fire Department will pay the bushfire monitoring bill, which has been discounted to $60,000 — about half the price — by Pano because the AFD and Pitkin County were among the first to allow the software to be installed and tested last year, Rick said. Ballentine, head of Agence France-Presse.

But perhaps more important than the price is that Balentine and Arvind Satyam, Pano’s chief commercial officer, are trying to make insurance companies aware of the bushfire control system. Ballentine said the effort will result in not only companies issuing more property insurance policies to homeowners in the area, but also contributing to the future cost of the monitoring system, which will not always be offered at half price.

“(The cameras) are like big smoke detectors in the sky, and once the insurance companies realize that’s going to be better for everyone,” he said.

As wildfires spread, insurance companies began canceling more policies. Ballentine said his friend who was trying to buy a large property in the Redstone area recently had to end his efforts because he couldn’t get property insurance.

Commissioner Steve Child, whose family has owned a ranch in the Old Snowmass area for decades, said his property insurance company recently brought him down due to bushfire risk and he had to scramble to find another company that would insure the ranch.

Ballentine said he has been negotiating with insurance companies recently and hopes to invite company representatives to a summit with Satyam and Banu in the near future to prove how important the system is in preventing wildfires.

High-resolution cameras have been installed on four communications towers in Pitkin County, including Upper Red Mountain, Ajax, and Jackrabit Ridge in Snowmass Village and Williams Tower in Old Snowmass District. Each has two continuously rotating cameras that use artificial intelligence algorithms to scan areas for smoke.

The cameras operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week between June and November, can see 10 to 15 miles and have a zoom feature that helps locate the fire.

After the initial installation last year, the AI ​​has learned a lot, Satyam told commissioners on Tuesday. For example, the cameras caught what the changing foliage looked like in the fall—which they had never seen before—as well as what the initial snow-making efforts looked like in November, he said.

Pano’s installation last year in Pitkin County was the first of its kind outside of California. Satyam said the company has now expanded to Oregon and Montana, as well as two states in Australia. This, he said, allowed the AI ​​to learn more about what smoke looked like against different backgrounds such as fog.

Fortunately, Ballentine said that last year’s wildfire season in Pitkin County was fairly quiet. Cameras spotted one lightning strike near Interstate 82 in the Lazy Glen area in July, though passersby reported smoke first.

Ballentine said he’s confident the system will continue to deliver benefits to Pitkin County residents this summer, especially with the gains made by artificial intelligence.

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