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Facing the Heat with Our First Responders Out West

Facing the Heat with Our First Responders Out West

Here in the Nation’s capital, our skies are hazy because of fires burning thousands of miles away. This is a stark reminder for us on the East Coast of just how devastating the wildfires are that our responders and citizens have been battling now for weeks. More than 4.5 million acres in 10 states are burning as we speak. We’ve lost some of our American family members. Thousands of homes and structures have been destroyed. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated. Nearly 16,000 firefighters—many are volunteers who have lost their own homes—are battling the blazes in addition to other emergency calls that come in daily. And late last week, we tragically lost one to the El Dorado blaze in California. All of this is happening while we’re facing a global pandemic and hurricanes are slamming our southern shores. 

There’s no doubt that these are hard and challenging times. But the American people are known to be resilient, brave and diligent. Collectively, we have everlasting hope for a better world and determination to work towards it. And we at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) echo this determination and are doing everything we can to support those who are on the front lines right now.

We are working hard to support federal, state and local governments with scientific and technological solutions while they are battling the wildfires. For instance, we’ve worked together with the fire service to design personal protective equipment to keep responders cooler while battling blazes and help them to breathe easier.

We continue to advise FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration on wildland-urban interface (WUI) technology innovations and are coordinating with additional agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the California Governor’s Office of  Emergency Services, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), and both academia and private industry, to identify the best ways to test, evaluate, and integrate existing and new technologies to protect our first responders, our citizens and our infrastructure.

Right now, we have several research and development (R&D) efforts underway to leverage low-cost ground sensors to detect, assess and track the threat of wildfire and alert state and local emergency management, utilities, and citizens to take immediate action. 

In addition, we are supporting California’s Fire Integrated Real-time Intelligence System (FIRIS) Pilot to help agencies prepare for and respond to wildland fires in Southern California. Under this pilot, S&T’s Team Awareness Kit (TAK) is being integrated with various information-sharing systems to help streamline wildland fire response. TAK will provide firefighter tracking capabilities and real-time situational awareness of personnel on the fireline and beyond. S&T is helping to map out the key concepts of operations to exchange additional essential elements of information (like fire perimeters and other incident data) and is equipping agencies with TAK training to improve personnel performance and safety. Specialists from the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting in Colorado will also similarly deploy TAK to incidents during the 2020 fire season.

I look forward to the seeing the results of this technology integration pilot, which will not only help with current wildfire suppression efforts but will further inform how S&T pursues technology R&D for our first responders

As the saying goes, all for one, one for all when it comes to protecting the homeland. We are watching with the whole world as brave men and women suit up every day and battle these historic blazes. We know that you are tired, we know that many of you also carry the safety of your own families with you. We thank you for your tremendous service

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