Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A promising way to prevent wildlife-vehicle crashes

By Lisa Eller, communications director

A white creature hurries across the road against a pitch-black night. It wasn't an elusive white bear, as my coworker Art joked, but the thermal image of a moose crossing one of the deadliest highways in Idaho - US Highway 95 in Boundary County. 

This stretch of highway sees a relatively high number of fatalities (both human and animal) from collisions between wildlife and vehicles. Between 2000 and 2010, there were 321 wildlife-related accidents reported on Highway 95 in the McArthur Lake vicinity. Two of these accidents caused human fatalities, and 36 more resulted in injuries. All told, these collisions cost an estimated $4.9 million, ranging from loss of life to vehicle repairs. ‬

For several years the Conservancy, as a partner of the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, has looked for ways to make the area safer. Earlier this month, after researching several safety options, we deployed a new but promising safety system. The first phase of the project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

According to its creator, Brice Sloan of Sloan Security Systems, the system is the first to combine the use of Doppler radar, high-resolution thermal camera, web-enabled remote power systems, and other wireless technologies to create a mobile animal detection system to reduce crashes between animals and vehicles. Unlike traditional perimeter detection methods this system tracks movement over the entire roadway – from fence to fence - over a distance of up to 1km in a given area.

Deer captured in a test image from Warm Springs in Boise. Photo and video (above) ©Sloan Security Systems

Once movement is detected, the monitor triggers nearby alert signal strobe lights to turn on – these lights stay on until the animal is off the road. The mobile monitoring system and alert lights communicate via powerful radios similar to how you would trigger your garage door.

Signal strobe light. Photo ©Sloan Security Systems.

Monitoring trailer. Photo ©Sloan Security Systems.

If effective the system could offer benefits many traditional safety measures don't: mobility, adaptability, permeability and affordability. Rather than forcing wildlife to respond to various funneling systems, the system can be adapted (moved) in response to the animal behavior. And it is relatively affordable when compared to infrastructure changes like building tunnels under highways.

In addition to the detection feature, the combination of radar and thermal cameras are helping the Idaho Transportation Department to identify where, when, and how many animals are crossing the roadway within the detection area and where potential collisions might take place – invaluable information for designing safer roadways.  

Much more data needs to be collected but results, thus far, are positive.

For more on the project and to donate, go to the McArthur Lake Safety project page. To volunteer by verifying data coming through the monitor, contact Brice Sloan at brice.sloan@sloansg.com.


Jim Van Dinter said...

This is an impressive system not only because of its ability to detect animals, but also it portability and cost.

Anonymous said...

In the second image, are those vehicle tracks skid marks, or do tires leave a hot track just driving down the road? Did the vehicle actually strike an animal?

Brice Sloan said...

Great question! In this case, the camera is looking at heat - not light - as a traditional camera would. So what your are seeing is the heat from the tires as the driver frantically tries to brake to avoid hitting the deer.

And yes, the driver did hit the deer. The next photo frame shows the deer lying on the side of the road. I drove out to the site to confirm the incident.