How Data Science Could Help Californians Battle Future Wildfires

How Data Science Could Help Californians Battle Future Wildfires A firefighter walks along a containment line while battling a 2018 wildfire in Redding, California. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

A major wildfire spread through Colorado, and I spent long hours locating shelters, identifying evacuation routes and piecing together satellite imagery.

As the Fourmile Canyon Fire devastated areas to the west of Boulder, ultimately destroying 169 homes and causing US$217 million in damage, my biggest concerns were ensuring that people could safely evacuate and first responders had the best chance of keeping the fire at bay.

The oddest thing about that September 7, 2010?

I spent it sitting comfortably in my home in Bloomington, Indiana, a thousand miles away from the action.

I was a volunteer, trying to help fire victims. I had created a webpage to aggregate data about the fire, including the location of shelters and the latest predictions of fire spread. I shared it on Twitter in the hope that someone would find it useful; according to the usage statistics, over 40,000 people did.

Today, researchers like myself are finding transformative new ways to use data and computational methods – what we call data science – to help planners, leaders and first responders tackle disasters like wildfires from afar.

A growing problem

The kind of work I do is increasingly necessary.

As I write this, wildfires are threatening homes across California. Vast areas are without electricity, due to the power company PG&E taking extreme measures to prevent downed power lines from igniting new fires, cutting off power to more than 2 million people.

Fueled by strong winds and dry conditions, these fires are a product of climate change.

It’s not just California where crisis is the new normal. Areas hit by hurricanes in 2017, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are still struggling to recover. Here in the Midwest, we are dealing with unprecedented floods every year, caused by extreme rainfalls driven by climate change.

Federal aid agencies like FEMA just can’t scale their response fast enough to meet the needs of disaster response and recovery at the level of annual disaster that Americans now face.

Even if world leaders take concrete steps to reduce carbon emissions, everyone on the planet is going to be confronting tough consequences for decades to come.

Data-driven solutions

But I am optimistic. A whole world of new possibilities have been opened up by an explosion of data. Artificial intelligence lets computers predict and find insights from that data.

Governmental and nongovernmental organizations are starting to recognize these possibilities. For example, in 2015, FEMA appointed a chief data officer to “free the data” within the organization.

This year, I helped found the Crisis Technologies Innovation Lab at Indiana University, specifically to harness the power of data, technology and artificial intelligence to respond to and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Through a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, we are building tools to help federal agencies like FEMA as well as local planners learn how to rebuild communities devastated by wildfires or hurricanes.

By analyzing historical disaster information, publicly available census data and predictive models of risk and resilience, our tools will be able to identify and prioritize key decisions, like what kinds of infrastructure investments to make.

We are also partnering directly with first responders to create new kinds of disaster visualizations that fuse together thousands of data points about weather, current conditions, power outages and traffic conditions in real time. Only recently have such capabilities become possible in the field due to improvements in public safety communications infrastructure, such as FirstNet.

We hope that this will help the incident commanders and emergency managers make more informed decisions in high-stress situations.

Other researchers are already demonstrating the power of technology to help in wildfires and other disasters, including using drones to send back streaming video from the air; using artificial intelligence to predict the impact of disasters at a hyper-local level; and tracking the changes in air quality during wildfires much more accurately using sensors.

How Data Science Could Help Californians Battle Future Wildfires Resilience2 allows rapid analysis of disaster resilience at the state and county level. David Wild, CC BY-SA

Looking ahead

The research we all are doing demonstrates ways that the powerful capabilities of data science and artificial intelligence could help planners, first responders and governments adapt to the huge challenges of climate change.

But there are barriers to overcome. Climate change and disasters are complex and difficult to model precisely.

What’s more, disaster response technology has to be specifically designed for high-stress, difficult environments. It has to be physically robust, able to operate in adverse environments with broken infrastructure. We need safe spaces to test and innovate new capabilities in simulated environments where failure does not result in real deaths.

My hope is that many more data and technology researchers will consider redirecting their research to the urgent problems of climate change.

About The Author

David Wild, Associate Professor of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Adaptation Finance and Investment in California

by Jesse M. Keenan
0367026074This book serves as a guide for local governments and private enterprises as they navigate the unchartered waters of investing in climate change adaptation and resilience. This book serves not only as a resource guide for identifying potential funding sources but also as a roadmap for asset management and public finance processes. It highlights practical synergies between funding mechanisms, as well as the conflicts that may arise between varying interests and strategies. While the main focus of this work is on the State of California, this book offers broader insights for how states, local governments and private enterprises can take those critical first steps in investing in society’s collective adaptation to climate change. Available On Amazon

Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Areas: Linkages between Science, Policy and Practice

by Nadja Kabisch, Horst Korn, Jutta Stadler, Aletta Bonn
3030104176
This open access book brings together research findings and experiences from science, policy and practice to highlight and debate the importance of nature-based solutions to climate change adaptation in urban areas. Emphasis is given to the potential of nature-based approaches to create multiple-benefits for society.

The expert contributions present recommendations for creating synergies between ongoing policy processes, scientific programmes and practical implementation of climate change and nature conservation measures in global urban areas. Available On Amazon

A Critical Approach to Climate Change Adaptation: Discourses, Policies and Practices

by Silja Klepp, Libertad Chavez-Rodriguez
9781138056299This edited volume brings together critical research on climate change adaptation discourses, policies, and practices from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Drawing on examples from countries including Colombia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Russia, Tanzania, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands, the chapters describe how adaptation measures are interpreted, transformed, and implemented at grassroots level and how these measures are changing or interfering with power relations, legal pluralismm and local (ecological) knowledge. As a whole, the book challenges established perspectives of climate change adaptation by taking into account issues of cultural diversity, environmental justicem and human rights, as well as feminist or intersectional approaches. This innovative approach allows for analyses of the new configurations of knowledge and power that are evolving in the name of climate change adaptation. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…

LATEST ARTICLES

Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
by Jack DeWaard
If it seems like extreme weather disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires are becoming more frequent, severe and…
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
by George Milev and Amin Al-Habaibeh
The COVID-19 lockdown has led to reduced pollution and emissions in the UK and around the world, providing a clear…
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
by Sarah McLaren
I would like to know if New Zealand’s carbon emissions of 0.17% include emissions produced from products manufactured…
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
by Ben Christopher Howard
The coronavirus pandemic has grounded thousands of aircraft, contributing to the largest-ever annual fall in CO₂…
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
by Alemu Gonsamo
Climate warming is leading to early springs and delayed autumns in colder environments, allowing plants to grow for a…
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
by Deidra Miniard et al
Political divisions are a growing fixture in the United States today, whether the topic is marriage across party lines,…
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
by Alexandra Macmillan and Jono Drew
I am wondering about the climate impact of vegan meat versus beef. How does a highly processed patty compare to…