California Can Lead and Win the Battle Against Wildfires

Peter Shannon
Radius Mobility
Published in
3 min readDec 30, 2020

--

Let’s not let another horrific fire season dislocate lives, destroy property and ruin precious landscapes and wildlife habitats. Just as we need to address the root causes of climate change and forest management, we need to address our ability in the short-term to respond rapidly to wildfires before they grow to catastrophic size. By taking action now, we can lay the foundation for a more hopeful future.

Here’s how: let’s bring the best minds from across disciplines together, and emulate similar programs working elsewhere, to develop and deploy wildfire solutions for California. Our call to action: establish a privately funded organization that reports to the state, focused on private sector innovation in wildfire mitigation. Enable California and Cal Fire to effectively partner with the private sector and other government agencies, including NASA, the U.S. Forest Service, and the FAA, to exchange operating expertise and to develop, test, and deploy new solutions for preventing, responding to, and mitigating wildfires.

Like our soldiers, our firefighters put their lives on the line to protect our state. Like our soldiers, they deserve the best tools. Yet, today’s tools leave us too slow to respond to wildfires, particularly in hard-to-access areas.

Options abound to change this. For instance, remote sensing, geospatial data systems, and machine learning networks allow us to combine factors including terrain, vegetation, weather, and vulnerable infrastructure to identify wildfire risks and target mitigations appropriately.

Additionally, an array of new guidance and control technologies can augment human operators to precisely deliver fire retardants to ignition sites on short notice, day or night, and under weather conditions too dangerous for today’s air operations.

Our opportunity is not to develop the technologies — they already exist — but to focus on the most viable and pave the way for the private sector to tie them into real world systems. This requires political leadership.

To ensure that solutions are successfully adopted, we need to emphasize close involvement from operators in the field. The mandate and capabilities to catalyze operational refinement and adoption give technologies a pathway to real-world operations.

A focus on rapid response to target the first minutes and hours of a new wildfire is vital. Fires grow geometrically, meaning they soon become impractical to extinguish with containment a long, costly and dangerous undertaking.

This year, an unprecedented 4 million acres have burned and over 8,500 structures have been destroyed. There have been more than 30 deaths. Beyond the direct costs of the fires, which may exceed $20 billion, the weeks of economic disruption, lost tax revenues, and health impacts could increase total costs by several-fold.

The new reality of wildfires in California and the western U.S. requires that governments take immediate action to evaluate the full spectrum of new capabilities made available by modern technology to prepare for and manage wildfires. We owe it to our firefighters and to ourselves to confront this challenge with better tools and technology.

There is a way forward. Pave the way to this future with smart policies.

ABOUT PETER SHANNON

Peter Shannon is founder of Radius Capital and is an investor focused on advanced aerial mobility and its application toward positive impact across the economy. He is active in the aviation community around regulatory and technology issues critical to enabling high-scale adoption of aerial mobility systems. He is co-author of a national strategy for Advanced Aerial Mobility and is an appointee to NASA’s Aeronautics Research and Technology Roundtable, through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the mission of which is to help NASA contribute to U.S. leadership in Advanced Aerial Mobility technology.

--

--

Peter Shannon
Radius Mobility

Investor in advanced aerial mobility, formerly in sustainability and tech, entrepreneur and software engineer