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State Fire Entity Seeks Millions in Budget Change Proposals for Wildfire Tech, Other Initiatives

The requests from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection are among 39 budget change proposals, several of which would pay for IT projects.

A firefighter next to flames in an agriculture field.
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A key state fire protection entity has the second highest number of budget change proposals (BCPs) on file with the California Department of Finance (DOF) — and several would fund technology projects if approved.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) now has a total of 39 BCPs on file with DOF — these generally indicate funding needs or reductions for new programs or for changes to existing programs or activities authorized by the Legislature. (The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has the most BCPs, at 45.) Of CAL FIRE’s BCPs, four include requests for funding to support new telecommunications facilities and standing up a new wildfire technology office:

  • CAL FIRE and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) are seeking $30 million in ongoing monies from the General Fund and “31 positions ($24.4 million and 11 positions for Cal OES and $5.6 million and 20 positions for CAL FIRE)” starting in FY 2022-2023 to stand up and run the Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS), a “state level mutual aid” system. It’s an “all-hazards intelligence platform, which enhances public safety, the mutual aid response system and situational awareness in real-time for all-hazard prediction and evaluation models, primarily for all-hazard response, to include primarily wildfires,” and other disasters and emergencies including flooding, earthquakes, searches and rescues and environmental emergencies. Since 2019, the state has administered three FIRIS pilots; the last, in FY 2021-2022, enabled “critical project work such as modeling post-fire earth movement for mitigation efforts and was supportive as an emergency all-hazard mutual aid resource role” in a recent pipeline oil spill off the Southern California coast. As of Oct. 19, pilots involved in FIRIS had flown more than 456 hours and responded to 178 incidents. The FIRIS application has more than 500 users and during the second pilot, models were shared via 29,428 messages.
    “The technology capabilities included on the FIRIS aircraft are currently the only resources of their type that respond on initial attack of a wildland fire or as soon after becoming aware of an all-hazard mission,” the entities said in the BCP. Among the needs, Cal OES will need to continue contracting for information sharing and IT services including technology to produce fire spread models and making that information available around the clock.
  • CAL FIRE is seeking $1.8 million from the General Fund in FY 2022-2023, $1.7 million ongoing, and seven positions to stand up the Office of Wildfire Technology Research and Development, which legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom approved last year via state Senate Bill 109. Newsom tasked CAL FIRE with “becoming the first state entity to successfully implement” his Request for Innovative Ideas (RFI2) process aimed at streamlining procurement. Statewide, there are “numerous private and public entities working to develop new and improved tools and technologies to better prepare for emergencies” per the BCP — including a research and development program at CAL FIRE. But there’s “no designated government entity funded to function as a centralized conduit for these entities to present emerging tools and technologies to public safety agencies,” and the state’s existing bandwidth for independent research and testing is “limited.” Standing up a wildfire tech research office will require CAL FIRE to expand its R&D program — and doing so “would allow for a seamless transition of ... pre-existing partnerships and allow the new staff to demonstrate value from day one,” according to the BCP. In so doing, the department will also create a “Fire Service Incubator” to lead in development of solutions that preserve first responder safety, the integrity of the environment and resiliency of rural communities and watersheds. CAL FIRE will need to add a Wildfire Technology R&D chief, an assistant chief classification; a research data manager; one each of an information technology specialist I and II position; a research data specialist; and an associate governmental program analyst as part of the new office.
  • CAL FIRE is seeking a little more than $37.2 million from the General Fund for the construction phase of the Statewide Construct Communications Facilities: Phase V project, a continuing initiative. Work includes replacing telecommunications infrastructure at six communications facilities with new telecom towers, vaults and supporting infrastructure, and building a tower at a seventh site. Converting the public safety microwave network to digital technology “supports new agency needs and provides better reliability with higher quality circuits,” according to the BCP. These facilities were created in the mid-1940s, and their vaults are lacking in size and climate control requirements; all, the BCP says, “are at risk of failure due to the age of the buildings and the extreme weather conditions they are subjected to on their mountaintop locations.” Total project costs are estimated at more than $41.6 million.
  • CAL FIRE is seeking $493,000 from the General Fund in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year, $181,000 from the General Fund in FY 2023-2024, and one position for two years to implement a training curriculum for livestock producers who are eligible for the livestock pass program. This is also to comply with state Assembly Bill 1103 from last year, which focused in part on a livestock pass program and disaster access to ranch lands. With approval of this BCP, the Office of the State Fire Marshal would create a training program for livestock producers by Jan. 1. Additionally, the office’s State Fire Training Division (SFT) would develop an online course based on the needed curriculum development course plan and make it accessible via a “learning management system (LMS),” according to the BCP. The entity seeks $250,000 in FY 2022-2023 to do so. SFT doesn’t currently offer any courses via an LMS and “will need to determine how to do this in an automated, electronic format.”
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.