University hacks wildfire challenges with new perspectives

Blog Post created by luciandeaton Employee on Jun 29, 2020

In response to recent wildfires that have devastated California communities, Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West hosted the 2020 Big Earth Hackathon that brought university students together from multiple disciplines to tackle wildfire’s challenges of equity and fairness, prediction and analysis, and mitigation.  Students worked in teams to develop actionable solutions and compete for over $10,000 in continuing research grants. 

Dave Shew, NFPA’s Wildfire Field Representative, provided an online presentation to the students focused on the history of wildfire evolution and suppression management practices in California.  Dave relayed that these factors – along with climate change – have led to the current state of catastrophic wildfires, massive structure losses, and unfortunately many fatalities as a result. 

After speaking to several of the teams individually to provide additional information, Dave was asked to help score the submitted projects from the student teams.  These projects included new ideas for evacuation apps, early wildfire detection, defensible space inspections, damage assessment, community recovery, carbon output, and even a new methodology to assess potential success of ballot measures to improve funding for wildfire mitigation. 

You can review the various submitted projects and see how they tackled wildfire challenges on the hackathon web page. 

Dave shared with me his appreciation of the student work, saying, "To say these projects were visionary and pushed the boundaries of our “normal” way of doing business is an understatement!"

Dave further explained that, "These insightful students – none of whom had any connection to the fire service – clearly listened to the problems as presented, and tackled them without the restrictions of the status quo or the more commonly heard reprise of, "That’s not the way we do things around here".  The innovation was astounding, insightful, and filled with the promise that new ideas from outside the fire service may be one of the best ways to solve some of its’ biggest problems.  The future looks bright and promising indeed!"  

Learn more about the hackathon and the student submissions for a future better prepared for wildfire

Photo credit: Stanford Big Earth Hackathon Wildland fire Challenge web screenshot, pulled 26 June 2020

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.