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From Crisis to Resilience: Safeguarding California Homes from Wildfires

Over the past five years, California has witnessed the devastating impact of wildfires, with approximately 10 million acres of forest burned and 39,000 destroyed. In 2022 alone, Cal Fire reports 7,490 wildfires consumed 362,455 aces, resulting in 9 deaths and 876 structure damages. These numbers provide a glimpse into the severity of the state’s climate crisis.

Unfortunately, while it is critical for homeowners to have sufficient insurance coverage to protect their properties, in May, 2023, StateFarm -a major home insurance firm in California- announced they will stop writing policies in fire-prone areas due to “historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market.” Shortly after that, Allstate -another insurance firm- followed suit. According to a statement made by the company, “The cost to insure new home customers in California is far higher than the price they would pay for policies due to wildfires, higher costs for repairing homes and higher reinsurance premiums.” The withdrawal of two major firms leave many homeowners in vulnerable and uncertain positions.

Fig 1: Fire damaged a home on Triangle Rd. as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, California on Saturday, July 23, 2022 (Source: KTLA5)

What Are Alternatives for California Homeowners?

Amidst the current climate and insurance crisis, there exists a few alternatives for homeowners. According to Bankrate, these options include a state-mandated program called Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan, surplus or excess line, or premier carriers. Additionally, to help reduce cost of insurance, homeowners and businesses can leverage a regulation enforced by Commissioner Lara in 2022 that mandates insurance companies offer discounts to homeowners and businesses who take proactive measures for wildfire safety and mitigation.

Best Practices for Fire Mitigation

As mentioned above, wildfire mitigation is vital for homeowners in California to not only help drive down insurance costs but also protect themselves from devastating damages. The following list suggests a few practices that residents can consider if they live in or adjacent to fire-prone areas:

  1. Clear vegetation: Remove dry grass, leaves, branches, and other flammable materials from your property. Maintain a clear space around your home by regularly mowing lawns, trimming trees, and clearing debris.
  2. Create defensible space: Create a buffer zone around your home known as a “defensible space.” This area should be free from highly flammable materials and vegetation. The size of the defensible space may vary depending on your location and local regulations.
  3. Use fire-resistant materials: When constructing or renovating your home, opt for fire-resistant materials. These include fire-resistant roofing materials (e.g., metal, clay, or asphalt shingles with a Class A fire rating), fire-resistant siding, and non-combustible decking.
  4. Maintain gutters and roofs: Regularly clean your gutters, as dry leaves and debris can ignite easily. Keep your roof in good condition, repairing any damaged or loose shingles that could allow embers to penetrate your home.
  5. Create an emergency plan: Develop an emergency plan for your family, including evacuation routes and a communication strategy. Keep important documents, medications, and emergency supplies in a readily accessible location.

Another Option: AI Wildfire Detection

While the list above is extremely helpful, a major part of protecting a home from wildfire is paying attention to the surroundings. In the effort of monitoring fire early, RoboticsCats offers an innovative cloud-based AI wildfire detection systems: LookOut Wildfire Detection SaaS (software-as-a-service).

Why LookOut and ReportFires?

One of the primary advantages of LookOut Wildfire detection SaaS, lies in its cost-effectiveness. Unlike many other options on the market that require new hardware installations and dedicated manpower, LookOut utilizes existing surveillance cameras, live-updated web photos, and personal smartphones. New hardware investment is optional.

Alongside LookOut, ReportFires –a crowdsourcing application that provides homeowners with real-time wildfire outbreak locations reported by other ReportFires users, enabling homeowners to take immediate action upon detecting wildfire activity. This timely information empowers homeowners to contact emergency services, implement measures to safeguard their property, and evacuate if necessary, thus mitigating the potential for costly damages.

Figure 2: LookOuts utilizes customers' existing IP network cameras to capture images, which are then processed by our AI algorithms either in the cloud or at the edge, providing real-time alerts and notifications via our user-friendly mobile app.

In summary, LookOut and ReportFires together help homeowners detect fire early with lower prices and minimum hardware installation. This early wildfire detection potentially shields homeowners from damages and drives down the cost of home insurance, especially during the current crisis in California.

Please register your 30-day free LookOut Wildfire Detection SaaS trial account at https://lookout.roboticscats.com

By Lan Dinh

Hello! My name is Lan Dinh. I'm a student at UC Berkeley, majoring in Data Science with a domain emphasis in Business and Industrial Analytics. I'm an aspiring Data Scientist and want to learn more about machine learning and how it helps business make decisions. I am passionate about math, problem-solving, and critical thinking. I have a 2-year of experience working as a Statistics Tutor, and I find beauty in numbers for they can tell us stories. I believe data science should be introduced to everyone because of its interdisciplinary nature; that's why I joined the Data Science Undergraduate Studies at UC Berkeley in Spring 2023 as a Modules Developer. In collaboration with three other members, I created in total of four Jupyter Notebooks for Anthropology class, using EDA to draw insights related to the field of study. This summer 2023, I work as an intern for RoboticsCats, a start-up building wildfire detection based in HongKong. I hope this experience will give me more exposure and practices on AI and how it can be applied to prevent natural disasters. Should you have more questions about me, please email me at ngocld32@berkeley.edu.

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