Google this week launched new Search and Maps features to provide crucial information about the wildfires burning through northern and central California.
Look up details of “wildfire in California” or a specific inferno, and you’ll see the fire’s name, location, and approximate boundary, as well as articles and resources from local emergency agencies. The same figures can be found in Maps, which also warns people when they’re approaching an active blaze.
“In moments like a growing wildfire, knowing exactly where a blaze is underway and how to avoid it is critical,” Yossi Matias, VP of engineering and crisis response lead at Google, wrote in a blog post. “Using satellite data to create a wildfire boundary map, people will now see the approximate size and location right on their phone or desktop.”
Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES satellite constellation and Google Earth Engine’s data analysis capabilities, the team can show the size of a wildfire “in near real time.” Data is refreshed roughly every hour. “NOAA’s satellites include infrared and optical sensors optimized for detecting ‘hot spots’ or large wildfires on the Earth’s surface,” Matias explained. “We run computations on this data in Earth Engine to identify the affected area,” which is represented in Search and Maps as a red icon and outline.
Google entered the crisis response field in 2010 with the Carmel Mountain Fire in Israel. Since then, the firm has rolled out a slew of emergency tech, from SOS alerts to earthquake detection to flood forecasting. A 2019 wildfire mapping pilot in California confirmed the feature is a “useful tool” for first responders, emergency management personnel, and the community, according to Matias.