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Inside The California Fires--A Need For Innovation To Fight Them.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 24, 2007

Just got back from the California fire zone, after staying with friends near Capistrano. I’ve been through earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes and man-made disasters before, but never a fire-storm.


At night, the mountains were literally on fire. Intense, brilliant reds again the night. Terror and the incredible beauty of it all gripped me at the same time. And I had never experienced the Santa Ana winds, whipping along at 80-100 miles and hour, hot. It was almost as if the desert was speaking, reclaiming the land, if only for a time.

The winds were too high for the planes and helicopters to come in and douse them. Or for firefighters on the ground to get close enough to battle the fires—there were many of them all around. If ever there was a need for non-human robots, this was it

There may have been systems in place to alert people of various stages of danger, but I didn’t see or hear any. Clearly, precise, constant information over the web and landlines is needed. Information that provided odds of your house being in danger given the various variables, especially wind direction, would be especially valuable.

In additon to robots and information, innovation in materials is needed. Many people had anti-fire tiles on their roofs (many didn’t), but much more can be done to develop fire-resistant housing materials.

And there is the problem of what to take—how to prioritize you’re most valuable things in the world—in the case of fire. The folks I was staying with got all the basics right—first the family albums, then the financial/personal papers, then the valuables (artwork, etc.), then the guests (maybe not in that order). But it is impossible to remember where things are in that kind of stress. Again, lists, locations, priorities—information on how to set up an escape in case of emergency would be valuable to everyone facing one.

Oh, the lights went out. A battery powered TV and a laptop charger for your car would be great too.

Reader Comments

David Armano

October 24, 2007 10:15 PM

And here I've been complaining about my sick Apple this week.

Great insights into what sounds like a very intense experience. Wow. I feel for those who lost their homes.

Steve Wildstrom

October 25, 2007 1:24 PM

Bruce: On the point of notification, I think you are being a little unfair. One of the great success stories of these fires, as least in San Diego county, is that the reverse 911 system put in after the 2003 Cedars fire worked very well--not perfectly, but very well. I think the best evidence of that is the extraordinarily low human toll among all the property damage. Also the San Diego Union-Tribune, not usually counted among America's great newspapers, has run an very helpful blog ( up-to-date factual information on the fires, including evacuations, reopenings, and road closures.

Bruce Nussbaum

October 25, 2007 1:38 PM

Thanks for the information on the reverse 911 system. I wasn't aware of it and didn't see any evidence of it during my two stay stay in the fire zone. But I'm sure it is effective.


October 25, 2007 6:17 PM

Take a look at this: I love the idea of the house being able to protect itself - just the thing for houses at any risk from wild-fires. I hope this becomes recognized by the insurance companies and get installed all over the place. There are some good videos on the site.


Md Moshiur rahman

October 27, 2007 1:24 PM

i appreciate the idea


October 27, 2007 2:08 PM

How about getting the enviornment idiots out of the way. Let's clear the dead wood out of the forests first.

Innovation is just a bandage to the solution.


Mike Henochowicz

October 27, 2007 2:17 PM

But your government freaks out when the bill is a million dollars. Now I heard this morning 1700 houses are gone (CA Median Home price of $600,000.00) Reverse 911 may not save your home but an extra 15 minute warning to tour cell phone will save lives.

The tsunami in Indonesia, some knew it happened. They didn't know who to call? to warn people. When the US decided to create it's communication infrastructure in 1989 it decided it was more important to listen to you than "Warn You".

We had our systems available for 9 years now. Too bad it takes this type of news to make people wake up, or become aware. EOSA @ OPC Marketing -Thanks


October 27, 2007 8:43 PM

San Diego put a *little* bit of money into their reverse 911 system, but has the lowest percentage of fire fighters and fire trucks per population, and per acreage of any place in SoCal. Apparently, no new taxes is more important in San Diego County. (see the story in the LA Times on this) SD County simply refuses to spend much at all on fire fighting; instead they chose to notify people to evacuate. Damage would have been less with more early assets. They also have few air assets. In LA County, the supervisors purchased far more choppers, and leased planes - not just for the "rich."

Alauddin Forhad

May 27, 2008 8:36 PM

this is a great Idia.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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