The Role of Big Data in Tracking California Wildfires15 min read
Wildfires are some of California’s most destructive events, and they’re becoming more common. In 2020, the state experienced more than 9,000 fires, burning a record 4.2 million acres, more than the previous three years combined. As the climate crisis grows more extreme, addressing these becomes a more prominent concern.
Data has always played a crucial role in understanding natural disasters, but recent trends bring new urgency. New technologies and mass digitization among both consumers and businesses have also provided more data than ever before. California organizations are now using this wealth of digital information to improve their wildfire responses.
Here’s a closer look at the role of big data in tracking California wildfires.
Accelerating Emergency Responses
Big data’s reach and agility improve visibility into developing situations and provide that information faster. Researchers at Michigan State University capitalized on this fast, informative data by creating a remote fire detection system in 2020. This system provides near-real-time insights into developing fires, enabling faster emergency responses.
Older tools, which many fire departments still rely on, can take several hours to use. In contrast, big data-based systems can alert firefighters within minutes, if not seconds, of detecting a wildfire. They can then respond before the situation grows out of control, minimizing damage to the environment and nearby communities.
As the climate grows drier and hotter, wildfires can grow faster, making quick responses all the more critical. While these big data-based alert systems are relatively new, they could be indispensable as fires become a more relevant risk. Widespread adoption of these technologies could help fire departments reverse recent troubling trends.
Keeping Affected Populations Informed
Similarly, big data can inform nearby populations about how fire and smoke are spreading. The same networks that gather and transmit developing wildfire data to firefighters can do the same for civilians. With these early warnings, people can have time to evacuate safely if necessary.
Even if people aren’t in the fire’s path, they can benefit from these real-time updates. Smoke particles can trigger chest pain and asthma attacks, even causing more severe reactions in some populations. Big data systems can provide insight into how wildfire smoke spreads across the nation, advising people when they may need to stay indoors.
People today can use fire and smoke maps using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other agencies. This data’s scope provides more insight, letting people see if winds will blow hazardous fumes in their direction, even if the fire itself isn’t a concern.
Predicting Future Wildfires
As these systems gather more wildfire data over time, they can fuel analytics programs to predict future fires. These insights can help emergency responders and potentially affected citizens plan more effectively for upcoming wildfire seasons. As more fires arise, these data networks gain more information, tailoring their insights to become more accurate.
The National Interagency Fire Center now publishes monthly predictions based on a wide range of data sources. These publications look at environmental data like droughts, past trends, and more to predict wildfire risk across the nation. With this information, citizens and local governments can prepare accordingly by distributing resources where they’ll be needed most for more effective responses.
As sustainability initiatives gain momentum, these predictive analytics services could help gauge their efficacy. Organizations could use big data to see how various changes would affect wildfire risk, guiding more responsible actions.
Big Data Is an Indispensable Tool in Fighting Wildfires
Wildfires are dynamic events arising out of a complex mix of factors. As such, organizations need insight from various developing sources to respond appropriately, which is precisely what big data provides.
As wildfires worsen in both number and intensity, these insights become increasingly crucial. Big data, therefore, is quickly becoming one of the most beneficial tools for California emergency responders and residents to track and address wildfires.
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Editor-in-Chief at ReHack
Devin Partida writes about data, cybersecurity and smart tech for ReHack.com, where she is also the Editor-in-Chief.