When conditions align, California wildfires are terrifying and catastrophic. But a San Francisco-based startup named Zonehaven is harnessing technology and smart phone apps to give evacuees and rescuers an edge in an emergency.
Launched with the aid of an East Bay fire captain, the app aims to speed the multi-layered steps for responders, from ignition to evacuation.
Steve Sickler is head of field operations for the two-and-a-half year-old company.
"When a fire starts on a red flag day, and that fire gets going, that fire could be moving a football field a second. The problem that agencies had in the past is, they come in, they see the fire, they see where it's going, and they have to immediately pull out a map, pull out some sharpies, and start figuring out where to evacuate," Sickler said.
Zonehaven makes that task close to instantaneous. The company, which has been hired by about 10 California counties, creates small zones ahead of time and streamlines alert notifications.
"What used to take literally Marc, hours, is now taking minutes," Sickler added.
The software provides a portal where rapidly changing information can be updated in real time.
It also incorporates Waze, the smart phone road mapping app. Marketed as a tool letting commuters escape traffic jams, though Zonehaven, it can help escape mortal danger.
"Waze could be evacuating somebody, and routing people out a certain way, suddenly a tree falls in the road, someone pulls up, enters into Waze 'tree down, road blocked' and Waze now will communicate that to everybody and start routing them out in a different way," Sickler said.
The service, which Sonoma County signed a contract with last year, isn't infallible though. Fires, or predicted fire conditions could leave communities without electricity. If an outage lasts long enough, batteries running personal cell phones along with the towers they communicate with, go down.