Early Stage: Fire-tracking app could help residents get out of harm’s way

Startup of the week:

Who they are: Kaazing

What they do: Their online platform, DisasterAWARE, keeps first responders and regular people up to date about wildfires and other major disasters.

Why it’s cool: As wildfires tore through the North Bay earlier this month, killing at least 42 people and destroying thousands of homes, one of the big problems — with deadly consequences — was a lack of communication.

Sonoma County officials are facing criticism because, when they fires broke out the night of Sunday, Oct. 8, they chose not to blast out an emergency alert to residents’ cellphones. Officials claimed the alert would have created a panic that could have hampered evacuation efforts, but many residents say they didn’t know the fire was coming until it was practically at their doorstep. Santa Clara County officials faced the same complaints in their handling of the February floods along the Coyote River.

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Firefighters also struggled to communicate while fighting the Wine County fires. Cell phone towers were down. Hilly terrain impeded radio signals. And the sheer number of fires, and the volume of personnel from different agencies responding to the fires, often made if difficult to get updated information on the collective disaster.

San Jose-based software company Kaazing says it has a solution — an online and mobile platform that is mapping the fires in real-time, even providing information on how severe the fires are, what direction they’re moving and how fast, wind speed, population density and building locations in threatened areas, and the locations of first responders on the ground. The tool also tracks hurricanes and other disasters, and predicts what they’re going to do. Kaazing CEO Bob Miller says it will save lives and reduce property damage.

“Having a crystal ball is a lot better than insurance,” he said.

While DisasterAWARE originally was intended to help first responders fight disasters, the company also offers a version of the tool that lets business owners check on their properties and other assets, even giving them eyes on the ground by connecting to traffic cameras. And the company offers a free mobile app, called Disaster Alert, for people in the path of disaster — North Bay residents, for example, can use the app to track the fires, and pay to get alerts relevent to their neighborhood. The data comes from the Pacific Disaster Center in Maui, a big data center run by the University of Hawaii and funded by the federal government.

Where they stand: So far organizations including FEMA, the Red Cross, the United nations and the Department of Defense use DisasterAWARE. Later this year, Kaazing plans to release an update that will allow DisasterAWARE users to get faster real-time updates.

To learn more or download the app, visit pdc.org/solutions/tools/disaster-alert-app 

What will they think of next?

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The Smile Mirror is part of the Super Happiness Challenge, an event backed by Singularity University and Nest.

Run the numbers:

As the fires burn up north, air quality in the Bay Area has plummeted — smoke clouds the horizon, the air smells like a campfire, and outdoor events around the area have been cancelled due to health concerns. Experts have been telling residents to stay inside if possible. But according to new data, we may not be safe inside, either.

Up to 85 percent of Bay Area households reported unhealthy indoor air in the wake of the fires this month, according to a study of homes that use San Francisco-based Awair‘s air quality trackers.

To protect your lungs, Awair recommends taking the following steps inside: keep windows and doors closed, set ceiling fans to spin counter-clockwise in order to pull hot air up, and wipe down surfaces to prevent dust and particles from accumulating on furniture.

Photo: The wildfires burning in the North Bay are seen Wednesday through the DisasterAWARE platform, powered by San Jose-based company Kaazing. The platform tracks fires and other disasters in real time, and can tell residents and first responders where the flames are, and where they’re going. (Courtesy of Kaazing)


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