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 recently, killing at least 42 people and destroying thousands of structures, one of the big problems — with deadly consequences — was a lack of communication.

Sonoma County officials are facing criticism because they didn’t send out an emergency alert to residents’ cellphones when the fires broke out the night of Oct. 8. 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.

Firefighters also struggled to communicate while fighting the Wine Country 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 disaster.

San Jose-based software company Kaazing says it has a solution — an online and mobile platform that can map 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 can 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

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