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Preparing for Wildfire Season: Colorado Embraces Technology for Safer Communities

While we’ve yet to see much sunshine or many hot days this summer, fire and emergency service providers across the state are continually preparing for wildfire season. Preparation which includes servicing equipment, drafting response plans, coordinating with various branches of local government and deploying public awareness campaigns to protect our 5.9 million citizens and Colorado’s critical infrastructure assets. What many don’t see are the steps being taken to implement new technologies and spur innovation to more efficiently and safely prevent and control wildfires. 

READ: How Colorado Businesses Can Better Prepare for Wildfire Season

Artificial intelligence, in tandem with the latest satellite and camera imagery, has emerged as a potential tool to help identify and respond to fires before they grow into deadly and costly crises. Earlier this year, Telluride Fire Protection District and San Miguel Power District announced that they were partnering with technology provider Pano AI to bring to bear the latest advancements in AI, hardware and cloud-based software to quickly detect and identify the location of wildfires and respond to the scene while notifying the surrounding communities of the possible threat before it becomes an emergency. Pano AI’s technology is already being deployed in Aspen, Boulder, Beaver Creek, Roaring Creek and Vail, as first responders, utilities and local governments look to get ahead of natural and man-made disasters.

While prevention is always the preferred outcome, we must always be prepared when emergencies do happen. Thankfully technology has come a long way in warning communities about active wildfires while there is still time to put emergency response plans into motion. Social media has played a crucial role in fire and emergency services providers’ ability to quickly and effectively alert individuals in rural and urban areas of potential wildfire threats and share vital information such as the locations of public shelters and road closures. These tools have saved countless lives as critical minutes or hours have been added to evacuation times.

Technology has also bolstered the ability of first responders to fight and suppress fires more effectively. West Metro Fire has recently installed a drone program that has revolutionized our department’s ability to navigate through rough terrain, determine the necessary strategy for the situation and, ultimately, reach our citizens in trouble through an effective and efficient method.

READ: Using Drones to Eliminate Future Forest Fires

Another example is Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft program utilizes state-of-the-art infrared camera systems paired with a geospatial database, which allows operators to see through the smoke and relay information in real time with ground crews, via a web-based app, to help map the fire’s movements and coordinate suppression efforts. This technology is a vast improvement over sending airborne crews out in the skies to look for smoke with the naked eye.

Let’s ensure that actions by officials at the state and federal levels don’t diminish the technological advancements essential to our emergency prevention and response. The bravery and dedication of Colorado’s first responders, paired with the ingenuity of our country’s technology sector, have turned the tables when it comes to our ability to reduce the lethality of wildfires. We hope to continue working alongside leaders at the state and local levels to use technology to our advantage and ultimately save lives.  


Chief Don Lombardi HeadshotDon Lombardi is the Fire Chief of West Metro Fire Protection District and has previously served as the president of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs.