Accenture Labs is breaking new ground in innovating for community wildfire preparedness.
We are no strangers to the fact that mega wildfires have caused colossal damage in the past couple of years around the world. In California, the wildfire season is now year-round, with over four million acres burned in 2020 alone. As climate conditions become hotter and drier, wildfires like these are likely to occur more often in the future.
Fortunately, the discussion is escalating on how to best reduce the effects of these fires on urban communities. In addition to health hazards from smoke and toxic water streams, property loss is one of the biggest threats to residents in high-risk areas, and reports show that the destruction of property has gone up significantly in the past couple of years. A strategy widely supported by fire agencies to reduce the effects of fires is defensible spaces around homes and other structures.
Defensible spaces act as a buffer between a building on the owner’s property and the grass, trees, shrubs, etc. that surround it. Past data around wildfire damage have shown that houses with defensible spaces have a higher chance of surviving a wildfire.
Defensible spaces are mandated by law in high-risk areas, but most homeowners do not create adequate defensible spaces. Another challenge is the lack of technological solutions that can supplement fire warnings and allow for year-round defensible space maintenance and monitoring.
To help solve this problem, our group at Accenture Labs and CSAA Insurance Group are collaborating on a joint research project that helps homeowners continuously monitor their defensible spaces to always be prepared against fire danger.
We are developing an IoT-enabled smart probe device that can forewarn homeowners when signs of a nearby fire are detected in the environment. Equipped with miniaturized sensors, the probe could allow homeowners to know when their defensible spaces are most vulnerable to fire damage and require attention, while also delivering hydration and nutrient boosters to the soil to help FireWise plants stay healthy. In order to create more sustainable, convenient, and compact designs, we aim to utilize innovative smart materials to create different components of the probe.
A crucial part of the research is to understand the risks and challenges associated with wildfire management in wildland-urban interfaces. We plan to leverage insights from interviews we conducted with researchers at the United States Forest Services and its partner agencies to inform the design and functions of the probe.
We believe that these smart probes can help people become more proactive in defending their homes against wildfires. Well-maintained defensible spaces will also provide access and safety for firefighters and enable community preparedness in the face of a wildfire threat.