California and the Pentagon Work Together to Fight Fires
The state of California and the Pentagon have created a cooperative agreement to better spot and tackle destructive fires. In an effort to prevent a recurrence of the deadly fires that swept California last year, the state and the Department of Defense (DOD) will be utilizing Cold War-era satellite technology and expanding drone use.
On Monday, the DOD announced their agreement to provide information from a Cold War-era military satellite to the state to help spot new wildfires. The Acting DOD Secretary Patrick Shanahan also gave the California National guard blanket authority to use unmanned drones to map fires, count destroyed houses, and spot survivors through the end of the year.
Adjutant Gen. David Baldwin, who oversees both the Air and Army branches of the California Guard, said state officials discovered “some satellite technology that was developed in the Cold War” that can spot small wildfires before they grow into larger, more destructive fires.
“We’ll have soldiers and airmen monitoring those around the clock to cue CalFire faster once those fires start,” he said, referring to California’s state firefighting agency.
According to Army Times, California utilities companies are also preparing to shut down power during periods of high winds and low humidity to prevent a spark from causing a wildfire.
California Governor Gavin Newsom told Army Times he is excited to work “collaboratively with the federal on technology and procuring access to technology that we haven’t had access before” for responding to fires.
Newsom expanded on the importance of blanket authorization for drone use to combat fires.
Previously, state officials had to get separate DOD approval each time they wanted to use a drone. These authorizations could take days. Now, California agencies can use drones for the rest of 2019.
According to Gen. Baldwin, drones can stay aloft for about 22 hours, compared to four or five hours for a manned aircraft. Drones are also able to navigate through clouds, smoke, and darkness with radars, cameras, infrared vision, and other multispectral sensors.
The drone’s ability to immediately identify, record, and relay damage also allows officials to more accurately order evacuations and request additional assistance.
Ultimately, Gen. Baldwin requested states retain unfettered discretion over when to use drones rather than requiring federal approval, but considers this a step in the right direction.
Governor Newsom is also requesting nearly $1 billion in new money to prevent and fight wildfires in upcoming appropriations legislation.
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