Concept for walking car explores advanced capabilities possibly useful for emergency responders

Hyundai unveiled their “Elevate” at CES

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate. Image from the video.

Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Hyundai displayed a scale model of a concept for an outlandish vehicle that they think could be useful for emergency responders and search and rescue organizations.

It truly looks like something out of a science fiction movie. And for now, anyway, it is just an idea since it hasn’t been manufactured.

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate. Image from the video.

Their “Elevate” vehicle has four rubber tires and can travel down a road much like a regular car. Each wheel is driven by individual electric motors and is attached at the end of a “leg” that has three or four joints, or knees. The legs are folded unless the driver needs to navigate over rough, rocky terrain, or has to step over a five-foot wall, in which case the legs extend and can begin walking.

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate in rescue ambulance mode. Image from the video.

There have been a number of wildfires that come to mind (in the U.S., Australia, Greece, and Portugal) in which residents fleeing by car became trapped on roads blocked by a fallen tree or traffic jams. Rescuers in an “elevated” vehicle might be able to quickly access the area, stepping over the trees or going off-road to bypass the obstacle. It could also be used as an all-terrain ambulance that could transport wildland firefighters out of terrain that is moderately steep and rocky.

Hyundai Elevate
Hyundai Elevate enabling access for person in wheelchair. Image from the video.

Hyundai admits that the Elevate is a pretty wild concept and has no plans to manufacture the vehicle, but is using the project to explore ideas and technologies that could be useful down the road.

In the video below a representative from Hyundai describes some of the features of the Elevate.

Lessons learned from Camp Fire could augment data utilization and community resilience

Camp Fire Northern California
Firefighters monitor the Camp Fire in Northern California. Inciweb photo.

A Mississippi State University civil engineering faculty member who researches resilience against extreme events and natural hazards is responding to lessons learned from California’s deadly Camp Fire by outlining how to utilize the power of data to improve disaster response and minimize economic loss and human harm in similar events.

In a letter published January 10, 2019 in Science Magazine, Farshid Vahedifard writes that in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Northern California, it is critical to examine how decision makers and first-responders can “prevent an extreme hazard like the Camp Fire from turning into a massive human disaster.”

Vahedifard is an MSU Bagley College of Engineering associate professor who also holds the Civil and Environmental Advisory Board Endowed Professorship. He penned the Science letter with MSU colleague Alireza Ermagun, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Kimia Mortezaei, an MSU engineering postdoctoral associate with the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems; and Amir AghaKouchak, a University of California-Irvine associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

With reports pointing to shortcomings in disseminating critical information to warn residents before and during the November fire that killed 85 people, scorched more than 153,336 acres and destroyed more than 18,800 structures, the authors point out that a “lack of an integrated framework for circulating information among decision-makers and passing it to residents exacerbated the devastating impact of the wildfire.”

They assert that investment in an integrated system for identifying, harnessing, synthesizing, and communicating pertinent data would “enable decision-makers and communities to better anticipate, prepare for, respond to and recover from extreme events such as the Camp Fire.”

They continue, “We must identify relevant stakeholders, examine the required data, collect public and relevant private data efficiently, and develop platforms for processing datasets such as weather data, cell phone GPS data as proxy for people, social media feeds, and traffic cameras and sensors. We then need strategies to convert data sets into usable information by using artificial intelligence technologies for decision-support systems. To communicate the resulting information effectively, we need a reliable data infrastructure for real-time analysis that could alert residents by email, phone messages, text warning, television, radio, and ‘reverse 911.’”

Vahedifard and colleagues previously have published research and commentary highlighting how a chain of events, such as wildfires, landslides and mudslides, cascades like a series of toppling dominoes and leads to catastrophic disasters.

Facing liability over wildfires, PG&E to file for bankruptcy

The company may have $30 billion in potential liability costs related to their role in starting wildfires

PG&E service territory
Map showing the service area of Pacific Gas & Electric, and the land protected by CAL FIRE (State Responsibility Area).

Pacific Gas and Electric has announced that it will file for Chapter 11 protection before the end of the month as it faces $30 billion in potential liability costs related to their role in starting wildfires. The company already carries a heavy debt load of more than $18 billion.

A dozen of the fires that started in Northern California around October 8, 2017 have been blamed on PG&E’s electrical equipment, according to CAL FIRE investigators, who also are looking into power line equipment failures that may have caused the Camp Fire on November 8, 2018. Over 40 people died in the Northern California fires, and 86 perished in the Camp Fire which also destroyed more than 14,000 homes.

The bankruptcy process would put a halt to more than 750 civil suits brought by thousands of homeowners and insurance companies over the wildfires allegedly caused by PG&E’s equipment, some of it 100 years old. The suits would then be resolved in a bankruptcy proceeding.

PG&E supplies power and natural gas to approximately 5.2 million households in the northern three-fourths of California. The company also declared bankruptcy in 2001 which lasted until 2004.

State law requires the corporation to notify employees at least 15 days before any bankruptcy filing. Chief Executive Geisha Williams has stepped down after serving for less than two years, the company said on Sunday.

In a brief submitted to a federal court in December, the California Attorney General said PG&E could be prosecuted for murder, manslaughter, or lesser criminal charges if investigators determine that “reckless operation” of its power equipment caused any of the wildfires in which people were killed during the previous 15 months.

Thousands told to evacuate below burn scars in Santa Barbara area as heavy rain is predicted

The evacuation order begins at 10 a.m. January 15

Fire debris flow flooding Santa Barbara evacuation map
Map showing areas under evacuation orders beginning at 10 a.m. January 15, 2019. Santa Barbara County. Click to enlarge.

Three to four thousand residents in areas below the footprints of three recent fires in Southern California’s Santa Barbara County have been ordered to evacuate as a winter storm approaches which could lead to debris flows below the Sherpa, Whittier, and Thomas fires burn areas. The evacuation order is in effect beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday January 15.

Thomas Fire debris flow flooding
Mud and debris flow in Montecito below the Thomas Fire, January 9, 2018. Photo by Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara FD.

Santa Barbara County has more information about the evacuation, including a map. A Red Cross shelter will be open at 10 a.m. at Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave., Goleta. Two schools are closed and three are holding classes at alternative sites.

The National Weather Service is predicting 1.5 to 3 inches of rain in the Santa Barbara area with up to 4.5 inches locally on south-facing slopes. Peak hourly rainfall rates could reach 0.75 to 1.25 inches. The heavy rain should taper off Tuesday night, followed by showers on Wednesday which will increase to heavy rain again Wednesday night.

Fire debris flow flooding Santa Barbara

Honda designs an autonomous ATV to carry equipment for wildland firefighters

Honda Autonomous firefighter vehicle
Screengrab from the video

In the fall of 2018, the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting (CoE), along with wildland firefighters from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) worked with Honda in testing their Autonomous Work Vehicle in wildland firefighting support scenarios.

Located at the site of the Lake Christine fire, a destructive wildfire that took place the summer of 2018 in Eagle County, Colorado- CoE, DFPC and Honda tested the work vehicles using realistic scenarios that occur during a wildfire. The team focused on utilizing the vehicle to support wildland operations with the goal of enhancing safety and effectiveness. Three missions were tested including initial attack support for dismounted firefighters, support of active fireline development, and autonomous deployment of a communications repeater to a remote site.  This evaluation was performed at the Lake Christine fire site after the fire was fully contained and controlled. The initial results of the tests were promising and the CoE looks forward to working with Honda to further this mission.

Honda debuted the vehicle at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.  At CES 2019, this week, Honda and the CoE are sharing some results of that testing. While further development is required before the device can be used on active wildfires, the potential of an autonomous vehicle is clear.

Couples workshop for firefighter families

This is a very interesting concept — a couples workshop (or therapy or counseling?) for firefighter families. Daycare provided.

Firefighters have a lot of stress to deal with, but so do their spouses.

We have no more information about this than what is available in the tweet, and therefore can’t endorse it. But, maybe this concept will be useful and if so, could spread like wildfire. (sorry)

The firefighting agencies and departments should provide this service. It is in their best interests to have healthy employees that can be depended on who can serve out their full careers in spite of stress and difficulties. It could even have a positive effect on the astronomically high suicide rate among firefighters. Arguably, the investment might even save departments money in the long term.

This period during the shutdown of 40 percent of the government would be a good time for something like this. It makes the scheduling easier and could address the additional stress of the layoff and possible financial problems.

We also should remember that not all firefighters are part of a couple.