To Perimeter, Technosylva and Ignis, for helping put out the fires.
Because of climate change, we’re probably in for many more wildfires like the ones that burned through the West Coast this summer, driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. But in future years, we might be better equipped to deal with them thanks to tools like those made by Perimeter, Technosylva and Ignis, three start-ups that are trying to modernize the firefighter’s outdated arsenal.
Perimeter, a small start-up in the Bay Area, makes collaborative mapping and data-sharing software for emergency workers. Its founder, Bailey Farren, is the 24-year-old daughter of a retired fire captain and a paramedic. After she and her family were forced to evacuate during the 2017 Tubbs fire, she saw the need for a better communication system than the two-way radios and paper maps that emergency workers often used. Perimeter’s app, which allows fire departments to share real-time evacuation routes and safety updates, is being tested in California cities including Palo Alto and Petaluma, and the company plans to expand to other states soon.
With distribution of a coronavirus vaccine beginning in the U.S., here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the U.S., when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.
- If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. Here’s why. The coronavirus vaccines are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be enough protection to keep the vaccinated person from getting ill. But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose — and be sneezed or breathed out to infect others — even as antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick. The vaccine clinical trials were designed to determine whether vaccinated people are protected from illness — not to find out whether they could still spread the coronavirus. Based on studies of flu vaccine and even patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to be hopeful that vaccinated people won’t spread the virus, but more research is needed. In the meantime, everyone — even vaccinated people — will need to think of themselves as possible silent spreaders and keep wearing a mask. Read more here.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection into your arm won’t feel different than any other vaccine, but the rate of short-lived side effects does appear higher than a flu shot. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. The side effects, which can resemble the symptoms of Covid-19, last about a day and appear more likely after the second dose. Early reports from vaccine trials suggest some people might need to take a day off from work because they feel lousy after receiving the second dose. In the Pfizer study, about half developed fatigue. Other side effects occurred in at least 25 to 33 percent of patients, sometimes more, including headaches, chills and muscle pain. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign that your own immune system is mounting a potent response to the vaccine that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.
Technosylva, another California start-up, makes predictive modeling software that allows fire departments to calculate where a fire is heading, how fast it’s moving and what weather patterns might affect its path. Its software is used in nine states, and helped the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection predict the trajectory of wildfires this year, saving valuable time for those trying to extinguish the blazes.
Ignis, created by a Nebraska company, Drone Amplified, is used for “prescribed burns” — small fires purposely set in the path of a larger wildfire to steal its fuel. The system attaches to a drone, and drops small incendiaries known as “dragon eggs” from a safe height, at a much lower cost and personal risk than a helicopter. Ignis was used to battle fires in Colorado, California and Oregon this year, and recently struck a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
To Our Data Bodies and Data for Black Lives, for fueling tech’s racial reckoning.
When George Floyd was killed in May, lots of Silicon Valley tech companies raced to voice their support for racial justice. But many of those companies have continued to make products that put Black communities at risk — whether it’s through amplifying misinformation, deploying biased artificial intelligence or perpetuating racism in their work forces.
This year, I’ve been more impressed by community-based efforts I’ve seen to support Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements using the tools of technology to hold institutions accountable. One of these efforts, Our Data Bodies, is an education project run by researchers and organizers in Los Angeles; Detroit; Charlotte, N.C.; and other cities. It has worked to teach communities of color how their personal data is collected and used by tech firms and government agencies. This year, it hosted virtual trainings for community organizers to teach them how to fight potentially harmful technologies like facial recognition.