On average more than 100,000 wildland fires burn 4 to 5 million acres a year in the United States. But FireWhat, a new startup in town, aims to limit some of that destruction by mapping fires, developing technologies to track responders, and ultimately make the fire fighting process more efficient.
Unless you are kicking it old school with a handwritten dead-tree map, most of the maps we use today on smartphones, computers, and even printed, are a result of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). We can use a GIS like Google Maps to find our way around, but there’s an advanced level of the field that can do much more. GIS basically makes the world a complex quilt of data that can be analyzed and put to good use in decision making and planning. BendTECH sat down with FireWhat CEO Sam Lanier to learn how they are applying GIS and expert-sourced information to improve fire fighting and why they’re expanding in Bend.
Started: Jan 4th, 2011.
Founders: Sondra Suazo, Jeremy Orozco, Ryan Avila, and Sam Lanier
Employees: 6 Fulltime Employees, and 4 Seasonal Staff. Preparing to add a few developers and administrative staff in the coming months.
Headquarters Dunsmuir, CA, and a desk at the BendTech coworking space. We’re looking to expand operations in the coming months.
So what does FireWhat do?
We’re a technology company that provides custom tools to map and track assets in and out of the field. We aim to correct the antiquated delivery of information to our nation’s first responders.
Where did you get the idea? FireWhat came about after several road trips around the world. We all worked in different areas of Emergency Response throughout the Western United States and realized there had to be a better way to share information so the same mistakes weren’t repeated amongst responders.
In 2011, the company made a major shift in development, and focused it’s attention on the need to provide better wildfire information to the public. We launched our first mobile application, a Google and WeatherUnderground-based app fed by our information. Then in 2013, we acquired the rights to Wildlandfire.com, the largest database for expert-sourced wildfire info, and started our relationship with Esri. Our main goal is to geospatially enable wildfire data on the web so it can be used by anyone.
Can you talk about your Esri partnership? Shortly after the purchase Wildlandfire.com, we were fortunate to be selected as an Esri Startup Partner and began the rapid revamp with a full integration of Esri’s ArcGIS Online GIS platform. The online mapping platform provides measurable success in the wildfire community.
How are you funded? We garner revenue from a several places including ad space on Wildlandfire.com, mobile application development, and contracts with the government for our GIS mobile labs for emergency response to natural disasters. We’re also contracting wildfire data distribution to other types of companies including media, weather and timber businesses.
Are you raising money?
Yes, FireWhat is in the process of starting its next round of financing.
What are some of your challenges?
Being based in Dunsmuir has been a godsend for the team. We are able to keep our costs way down. But to the contrary, we are limited on finding local tech developers. This is a big reason we are expanding our reach into Bend.
How you making use of Unmanned Aerial Systems? We worked closely with our city to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to test unmanned aerial systems for wildland firefighting and search and rescue. Our request was approved last August. Now we’re working to partner with a UAS platform that flies at high elevation, for long periods, and has extended range. This is extremely important for our industry and will be an evolutionary change in wildfire management.
We are in a rapid growth phase. With growth comes increased demands on the team, and the need to raise additional capital to meet contract requirements. We’re working on technologies that speed the process of mapping emergency incidents with the use of GIS and looking forward expanding to Bend.
Tierney O’Dea is a writer and media consultant. She started her career at NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and worked in various forms of media for national organizations including Scholastic, Yahoo, and NASA. She also served as an executive for two startups, Slooh.com and Medic Mobile, and as a mentor for entrepreneurs in Austin, TX. In her free time, she enjoys downhill skiing, hiking, photography, and astronomy.
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