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Fighting Fire with...Building Codes

The need for local governments to plan for a more resilient and sustainable future took on new urgency following last November’s devastating wildfires in California. The Camp Fire in Butte County burned over 153,000 acres and destroyed more than 17,000 structures, including nearly 14,000 homes. This event was just one of many wildfires that has affected the Pacific states, prompting local governments to seek preventative solutions to this devastating problem.

Last year’s tragedy was the catalyst for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the State of California Public Utilities Commission, along with the University of California, San Diego, to convene a team of experts at its inaugural Wildfire Technology Innovation Summit in March.  

The summit gathered national and international thought leaders and practitioners from state and local governments, academia, industry and others to inform and engage each other about the challenges of wildfires and tools that can help us better manage these disasters. I had the pleasure of being on the closing panel with Amy Tong, Director of California Department of  Technology and State Chief Information Officer; Michael Picker, President, California Public Utilities Commission; and John Simmins, Technical Executive,  Electric Power Research Institute.

It was clear from the two days that technology is at the center of the efforts to prevent and minimize the impact of natural disasters. Participants discussed the use of AI-based visual recognition technology to analyze satellite imagery to determine fuel conditions and vegetation risks in proximity to utility lines. They also talked about the importance of machine learning and automation inspections for increased safety assurance regulatory compliance.

It was also evident that there is an urgent need for preemptive action through stricter building codes that provide appropriate barriers between manmade buildings and the environment. Many communities are taking preventative measures today by modifying local building codes and regulations for both commercial and residential structures. Their work is deliberate — the International Building Code, an essential tool to preserve public health and safety, is due to be revised next year, and localities are timing their updates to coincide with this cycle.

You can learn more about the topic from my colleague Peter Pirnejad, who heads our Oracle Public Sector Community Development effort. His recent article in the American City and County magazine, “Building codes fight fires,”’ makes the case for using technology tools to help change the management and enforcement of the entire building planning process. This includes new approaches for the design, construction and code enforcement of new buildings to ensure simpler and more predictable outcomes for both citizens and government officials.

Technology is an essential part of our lives. If employed effectively, it can not only play a leading role in disaster risk management, but also protect lives and the environment for generations to come.

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