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  5. Minisode 16: Without Question, This Technology Will Save Lives

Without Question, This Technology Will Save Lives

TechSpeak The Bonus S&T Podcast

If you’ve heard that familiar emergency alert sound blaring from your phone, you already know a little bit about what’s in store in this episode. Wireless Emergency Alerts are already helping keep people safe from nearby fires and floods; now, S&T is working to pair them with cutting-edge sensors to deliver warnings not just via mobile phones, but also through vehicles’ infotainment centers. We’re bringing you behind the scenes as S&T and FEMA tested the sensors and alerting capabilities this summer at a live demonstration of the Wildland Urban Interface Integration Model in Stafford, Virginia. More than 100 million people live within the wildland urban interface space and are at risk of wildfire—a stat that not many people know. Learn how these alerts are keeping you safe with S&T program manager Norman Speicher; Virginia Department of Emergency Management State Coordinator Shawn Talmadge; and Antwane Johnson, Director, Integrated Public Alert and Warning Systems.

Run time: 07:16
Release date: October 12, 2023

Show Notes

Guests: Norman Speicher, Program Manager, Science and Technology Directorate; Shawn Talmadge, State Coordinator for Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Antwane Johnson, Director, Integrated Public Alert and Warning Systems.

[00:00:00] Norman Speicher: There's a perception by many that wildfire is something that affects the southwest or areas of California, but most people don't know, over a hundred million people live within the wildland urban interface space and are at risk of wildfire. In addition, in 2022, over $13.5 billion in property damage was the result of flooding across the country.

[00:00:25] Dave: Got your attention. Yeah. I had no idea. Hi, and welcome to Tech Speak a mini episode of the Technologically Speaking podcast. I'm Dave. Editor for S&T. You just heard from program manager, Norman Speicher live at a demonstration of the Wild Land Urban Interface or WUI integration model. In June, we field tested methods of pushing out emergency alert messages for life-threatening incidents that go directly to the infotainment system consoles in cars. Those consoles are where you see your navigation map and maybe your satellite radio stations. Let's rejoin Speicher to set the scene for you. 

[00:00:56] Norman Speicher: So, today we're at the Stafford County Training and Logistics Center to demonstrate how unattended sensors can detect fires, floods, and ultimately, send a message via IPAWS alert and other methodologies to the public to better inform them and make them aware of areas that they need to avoid or areas that they need to evacuate from. Unattended sensors can detect when fire is in the area or when a flooding event's about to occur. And we can notify the public via their mobile phone or in their vehicle and make them aware of the fact that there is this dangerous situation and to either leave the area or to avoid it entirely.

[00:01:43] Dave: One of S&T's partners is the Virginia Department of Emergency Management here. Shawn Talmadge, State Coordinator for VDEM talks about how WEA alerts will enhance their incident response. 

[00:01:54] Shawn Talmadge: Our primary mission is to support our localities, you know, protect the public and preserve the environment. The bottom line is, our role is to coordinate, synchronize, help with planning and logistics and today, one of our most important, responsibilities is alert and notification to our public. We receive, alerts to potential emergencies through a variety of ways and, we receive that information in our 24 7, emergency watch center. Once we have that data, we have a number of things we have got to do. One is who else do we need to notify? And we do that through our localities, but also, we use IPAWs, WEA to alert the public that there is a potential, emergency or actual emergency and we issue instructions. These sensors are designed to detect at very early stages of the fire, which means my department and other first responders will be alerted, much earlier and really resulting in, our ability to extinguish the fire earlier. So, we're talking saving lives and we're also, talking, protecting, the public's property, which is fantastic. 

[00:02:57] Dave: Speicher and Talmadge both mentioned IPAWS. They’re referring to FEMA's integrated public alert and warning system, which notifies the public of critical emergency situations. You may have also heard mention of WEA that stands for wireless emergency alerts. Most of us can probably recall the familiar sound emitted from our mobile devices during weather events or Amber alerts. S&T has worked closely with FEMA for years on IPAWS and WEA alerting, and this WEA effort is a natural extension. While at the event, we caught up with Antwane Johnson, Director of FEMA's IPAWS program office to talk about the importance of this kind of emergency alerting and how it works. 

[00:03:32] Antwane Johnson: As we're all aware, all emergencies occur locally, so it's absolutely critical that local emergency management and public safety officials have access to these national capabilities to keep their communities informed about potential threats to their safety. From an alerting perspective, when there is an event and a community that the local emergency manager or public safety official feels that the community needs to be aware of, they will then send an alert from their Emergency Operations Center. That alert is then sent into IPAWS. We check for two things to ensure that it's coming from an authorized alerting official. Then that it complies with the standard that we have adopted. Once those two tests are passed, then we pass that information to all of the downstream dissemination systems for consumption by the American public.

[00:04:19] Dave: In this case, the downstream consumption that Johnson is talking about is via cell phones and infotainment consoles, and most modern cars. Pretty cool. Here's Speicher again to describe the actual testing. First, the team tested the alerting triggered by the unattended fire sensors. 

[00:04:35] Norman Speicher: So, they've started some of the demonstrations. So, this is an isolated sensor test. So, there we have a sensor net here of approximately six sensors and we're showing and demonstrating, an initial sensor, activation by lighting a burn barrel that's full of just wood and hay in a 55-gallon drum. It was encouraging to see when we had poor air quality last week because of the Canadian fires, each of these sensors went off and continued to go off for the duration of the poor air quality. So that just showed that, you know, they do behave and act exactly how they're designed to. But through the course of demonstrations today, we'll show that the sensor goes through its normalization process. So, it activates, and then it, builds confidence that it's, identified a situation where smoke is occurring, a fire is occurring, and that it escalates its notification, to the point where it creates an alert that is recognized by IPAWS and disseminated through the channels that we have available to us today. So that will be a notification that'll send in vehicles that enter this area, just test vehicles. It's not going out to the public and also to the WEA application.

[00:05:44] Dave: Here, Speicher explains how someone would receive the alert if they were driving. 

[00:05:49] Norman Speicher: With these fire and flood alerts, we want to be very targeted. So, the alerts being sent to a geo-fenced area. And what that essentially means is that on a map we've created a shape indicating those that we wanted to receive that notification and excluding those that we don't. So, when you enter that geofence area, which is literally just a place on a map or a place in an area, once you cross that imaginary or that virtual fence geofence, you'll receive that notification.

[00:06:21] Dave: Okay. Let's finish up with Speicher final thoughts on the testing event.

[00:06:25] Norman Speicher: So, without question, this technology will save lives. It streamlines the process, gives us better awareness of what's happening with the flood or fire. And as a result, we can be much more effective and much more timely in getting notifications out, evacuating affected population, and ensuring that the loss of life and property is minimized to the greatest extent possible.

[00:06:49] Dave: In our increasingly mobile world, it is incredibly important for emergency alerts to be able to reach us wherever we are. So, we can take immediate action to get out of harm's way. This is exactly why S&T is working so hard to make the WUI integration model a reality. Plus, we really just like saying WUI. 

[00:07:05] Thanks for listening and be sure to follow us at DHS Sci-Tech DHS, S C I T E C H. Bye. 

Last Updated: 04/01/2024
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