SPD Section 1
Area of Interest:
Over the past few years, California has experienced a surge of wildfires. The smoke has filled the skies, lots of land and property has been destroyed, and many lost their lives. Back in 2018
“The Mendocino Complex Fire broke out on July 27 in Northern California and grew to be the largest fire in state history, with 410,203 acres burned. The Carr Fire, which broke out on July 23 in Northern California, is the eighth-most destructive fire in the state’s history.” (https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-wildfires)
“More than 100 people were killed and 17,000 homes and 700 businesses were destroyed” (Los Angeles Times)
Even as recent as August of 2020, there was a wildfire about 80 miles away from my home and when I stepped outside into the yard, I was able to see ash particles fill the air. I remember the worried look of my mother’s face as our home was that close to a fire and her heart went out to those who had it worse than us.
To keep informed, we look at many platforms: The Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC News, Telemundo, Facebook, and sometimes look as different fire maps form different sources. Constantly looking between different sources like that could be disorienting and likely stresses us more than we need to. Relying on too many sources for news relating to the California wildfires isn’t an effective manner of staying informed. While an app cannot stop or prevent wildfires or their spread, they can inform us and present data in a clever and convenient way.
How can I create a simple, accessible, and convenient platform that informs and notifies people with everything they need to know regarding wildfires, their location, severity, and what risk they pose?
CinderMap: A simple, easy to navigate app that displays a map pinpointing the exact location of a fire in real-time, their scale and severity, read air quality and wind patterns, notifies you of nearby fires and if you are at risk(of the fire or just the smoke).
There are many fire safety organizations, both private and federal. As far as politics goes, there is little friction against the development of a product such as this app. Perhaps the only thing that would come into play would be the rights of these industries, their data, and their API’s.
Economy & Market:
These days, even among low-income families, just about every American owns a smartphone. Based on this information, and given the nature of apps, we can conclude that just about everyone will have access to this app.
Due to the simplicity of the app such as this and the accessibility of data, there is a lot of competition in the market for this domain. There are federal agencies, private companies, and many apps already readily available. While not a closed door, the competitive market would pose some challenges to this app.
You can ask anyone in California if they have been affected in any way by wildfires over the past few years and they will most certainly say yes. For many, its smoke blocking the sun and forcing them to wear a mask. For others, its a temporary loss of power and electricity. But for some, the fires destroyed their homes and forced them to relocate.
According to Cal Fire, during the 2018 fires, 1.9 million Acers of land were burned, over 24,000 Structures were destroyed, and 100 fatalities. To add to the alarm:
“California’s deadly November 2018 wildfires have topped $11.4 billion, making the series of fires one of the most expensive in state history” -ABC30.com
The increase in fires has increased fear and alarm to many Californians. Many hope and pray that their home town isn’t the next one to catch on fire. People check the news regularly to keep updated on the fire status to see if they are in threat or danger. This craving to keep updated on fires makes an app like this perfect because it provides everything people are looking for, a map that shows fires in real-time and details their level of severity.
The technology needed to create an app like this is rather simple. There already exists a lot of reports and data that pinpoints the exact locations of fires; to make things easier, this data is easily accessible. Organizations, such as UCCE, collect data in 2 primary manners: “fire perimeter” and “hot spot data.”
“Fire perimeter data are generally collected by a combination of aerial sensors and on-the-ground information. These data are used to make highly accurate perimeter maps for firefighters and other emergency personnel, but are generally updated only once every 12 hours.”
“Hot spot data uses satellite detection to identify areas of high temperature. VIIRS and MODIS thermal activity data is not as accurate as fire perimeter data (it is collected on a 1km scale), but it is updated twice daily.”
There are no groundbreaking technologies, methods, or ideas needed to create this app of this scale, it largely relies on simple data.
After looking into how many fire map apps already exist, I was surprised to see how few there were, I had expected more. Never the less, there were a few competing apps that I was able to find: Fires Near Me, Fireguard, Firemap, and Wildfire. The following diagram displays these 4 apps. Notice the x-axis measures the ease(far-left being simple while far-right being overly complex) of use while the y-axis measures the complexity of information given(top being the excess and disorienting amount of information while the bottom being for far too little or too simplistic).
Fires Near Me: Definitely my favorite out of the four and most resembles what I have in mind. It has a very easy to use minimalistic design. Upon opening the app, it pinpoints locations of fires in real-time, along while also indicating which of the 4 levels the fire is. The only problem with this app is that it only provides information on Australian fires, so no one is California can benefit from this. But its simplicity is definitely something to draw inspiration from.
Fireguard: While seemingly similar to Fires Near Me, Fireguard is a lot less visually appealing and it’s “view area” feature serves no purpose given that the nature of the app is a map, and to view multiple areas you need to pay $10. Yellow and orange dots are placed on the map indicating a fire, but there is no legend to distinguish between the colors. Perhaps the worst feature of all is the ads popping up every minute.
Firemap: One of the advantages of Firemap is that is provided global data. It highlights live fires in red from around the world. The problem is… that’s it. It doesn’t indicate the threat level of the fire or any additional features. To make things worse, it has ads.
Wildfire: Wildfire was very interesting. It displays wildfires, wind patterns, and news outlets linked to articles and analysis. However, all this information is displayed overwhelmingly and users can get lost. There also seem to be some bugs in this app. The wildfires map doesn’t display any fires and the Weather map only seems to show wind patterns if you are zoomed out at an exact distance, otherwise the wind patterns don’t render.
Upon looking at this graph, we can see a line of correlation between the ease of use and the complexity of information. There seems to be a trend that the app becomes increasingly more difficult to navigate as additional information is added. Seeing that my target zone lies outside of this line, I foresee the biggest challenge will be providing informative details while also maintaining easy usability