Can ‘Big Data’ Help Fight Big Fires? Firefighters Are Betting on It

As out-of-control wildfires in the West grow more frequent and more intense, fire departments in Southern California are looking to big data and artificial intelligence to enhance the way they respond to these disasters.

The marriage of computing, brawn and speed, they hope, may help save lives.

For about 18 months the Los Angeles fire department has been testing a program developed by the WiFire Lab at the San Diego Supercomputer Center that makes fast predictions about where active fires will spread next. The program, known as FireMap, pulls together real-time information about topography, flammable materials and weather conditions, among other variables, from giant government data sets and on-the-ground sensors.

When firefighters across the city are dispatched to respond to brush fires, the department’s leaders at headquarters now run the WiFire program as part of their initial protocol. Then, WiFire’s servers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center in La Jolla crunch the numbers, and the program turns out a predictive map of the fire’s expected trajectory. Those maps can then be transmitted electronically from headquarters to incident commanders on the ground.

The program can make sophisticated calculations in minutes that would take hours to run manually, said Ilkay Altintas, the chief data science officer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot

Good example of data being put to life-saving use.

Data Driven Chicken Sandwiches

How do you compete in a world of extreme competition, demanding consumers and a shrinking availability of commercial real estate? Well if you’re Chick-fil-a you mix billions of data records, topped with predictive analytics and a side automation to get targeted locations that meet both the needs of consumers and the organization.

In only a few years Chik-fil-a has completely digitized their site selection and the results have been amazing. Site selection, especially for a restaurant that sees a lot of vehicular traffic is imperative to success. Chik-fil-a historically would take pieces of available data like traffic patterns, potential new development, and physical drive-bys to determine new sites.

Using new technologies, Chik-fil-a is able to import massive data sets into their system to analyze and simplify decisionmaking. Chan Lee, enterprise GIS manager for Chick-fil-A’s strategy and analytics team stated:

We’re looking at transactional levels of data.  You’re thinking about billions and billions of records. And that’s great and all, but really what we’re trying to do is trying to figure out, find the signals from the noise

Lee’s team developed a system to import all the available data sets into one centralized system. Taking into account traffic patterns, mapping data, development plans and even cell phone traffic, the GIS team can overlay relevant information on top of a map to get an informed picture of a potential new site. And so far the results speak for themselves. Chik-fil-a plans on opening 90-100 new locations this year.

 

Why It’s Hot

Data-driven decision making is a proven way of getting the complete picture, but the challenge today is less about finding and obtaining data – but turning those massive recordsets into something useful. Predictive analytic techniques use historical patterns and real-time information to deliver actionable insights. Combined with AI technologies these data lakes can now be sorted, ranked and used to make informed business decisions