There has been a lot of news during the past months about the growth of FirstNet, the first responder network being created by AT&T and the U.S. government, and similar initiatives vying for a piece of the pie. These networks hope to leverage emerging technology to help first responders communicate more effectively in order to be safer and get the job done as quickly as possible. These tools also generate data that will speed solutions to the ongoing emergency.
The wildfires in southern California are a chance to see how these tools operate under actual emergency conditions. Are they actually helping or is their potential overblown? The answer is that the high expectations are justified. Deepak Puri, the founder of Skilled Analysts, writes at Network World that emerging tools have played a positive role in battling the California fires:
Technology brings a new level of precision and a data-driven approach to managing wildfires. Real time data about fire conditions is collected and blended with predictive data such as current wind speed and direction. It showcases the value of Internet of Things (IoT) in action with (1) data collection (2) real time analysis and (3) optimizing the response.
It is easy to assume that unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) capable of flying over a fire will produce a wealth of information. That may be underestimating the impact, however. Puri writes that the equipment onboard UASs, such as high accuracy photogrammetry (HAP) and electro-optical and infrared cameras can “see” through clouds and smoke and operate at night. They create “geo-referenced, high-resolution digital fire progression and suppression maps.” In other words, far more data is collected than meets the (human) eye.
More detail on the involvement of UASs is offered at a Natural Gas Intelligence story that describes Pacific Gas and Electric’s involvement. The utility is cooperating with other groups on the initiatives. Each team has a pilot, an observer/co-pilot from the drone vendor, an equipment assessment expert and a safety officer. Collected information went to camps in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties and the Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco.
Emerging technology also creates new problems. One example is that amateur drones can create danger in emergency zones. The San Jose Mercury News reports that a 24-year-old man was cited for flying a drone over a local airport in Petaluma. The airport, which was being used as a base for Cal Fire helicopters, had to suspend operations for 10 minutes while the issue was resolved.
The Network World story also describes the benefits of helmet cams and crowdsourcing. The example of crowdsourcing is particularly interesting. The Waze Connected Citizens Program provides vital information, such as roads to avoid, to subscribers. That’s pretty important if the reason for the alert is that the road is in flames. The platform also gathers important information from the field that can be fed into Big Data systems to refine the firefighting efforts.
It’s easy to assume that new telecommunications and IT tools will be put to good use wherever they are appropriate. It is important to refine techniques through real-world experience. The wildfires in California provide real evidence that these tools are helpful in efforts to save lives and limit property damage.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.