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Fortunately, it’s not fire season yet, which allows firefighters and emergency responders to begin planning how to deal with the increasingly complex and difficult task of preventing and responding to fires in the city. American West. Forest fires in the region have been particularly acute in recent years in states like California, mainly due to warmer conditions caused by climate change, deterioration of grid infrastructure that can lead to sparks and sparks. a tinder of trees and foliage ripe for conflagration.

After years of fighting deadly fires, some startups are exploring how to improve fire response. One of them is Cornea, a sort of spin-up from the public-sector-focused venture capital studio Hangar, which raised $ 15 million last year to create new startups targeting the government.

One of the first companies in Hangar was Cornea a few years ago, and it remains one of the most interesting for its potential. The idea is to merge geographic, weather and historical data on fires into a machine learning model that can empower frontline firefighters with better advice on where to go forward and when to retire in the middle of. a fire.

The startup has two main products that it plans to launch this year. The first is focused on providing better situational awareness around a topic known to firefighters as the “Suppression Difficulty Index”. Essentially, these are maps that inform firefighters about the dangers of fighting a fire in a very specific geographic location. For example, a particular location might have windy or water conditions that could accelerate a fire and endanger responders if they are not careful.

The other product focuses on “potential control lines” – locations where a firebreak or other action could potentially repel a fire. Using typography, vegetation and a myriad of other data, Cornea can locate positions with a higher probability of success in fighting a fire.

Cornea’s fire chief is Tom Harbor, who previously served for a decade as the fire chief for the US Forest Service. He said: “50 years ago I grew up in a culture where you never knew ‘why’ – you just obeyed orders” when it came to firefighting decisions on the job. ground. “Your head was on the proverbial pivot.” With Cornea and the products the company creates, we are “aligning with the ‘why’ and starting to have [firefighters] sense the information they seek. “

Harbor noted that the most common tools in the field today are paper maps and markers, just because “you know it doesn’t break when you can’t break things.” Cornea’s products can help firefighters in the field, but they are much more likely to have an impact in fire operations centers where strategic decisions are made about where to invest firefighting resources. fires.

Josh Mendelsohn, founder and managing partner of Hangar, said the company was directly at the center of the studio’s investment thesis. “Cornea is focusing on taking these large datasets, processing them efficiently… and then [firefighters] so much analytical impact in making the output as simple as possible, ”he said, noting that“ it turns out that in this market the best user experience is a PDF. “

Indeed, one of the major construction challenges in this market is simply the unique dynamics of disaster response compared to, say, enterprise SaaS. “Cornea had to go through a customer discovery process,” Mendelsohn said. “It all seems necessary, but what are the good things that require the least change in behavior to have an immediate impact?” A challenge especially in firefighting is simply the feedback loop from the field to the team. “The fires are seasonal, so we had to be a bit gradual,” Mendelsohn said.

The team is currently made up of three full-time people plus consultants, with Hangar complementing them with its own studio staff. The company developed its product using, in part, federal research grants to deepen the science of firefighting, and this year hopes to work with the forest service and state firefighting agencies to bring its models to life. in the first line. “There is a human bandwidth problem,” Mendelsohn said. “How do you take limited resources to help [firefighters] go further by using them effectively? “


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