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Satellite a firefighting tool, as well

By Abbe Smith
The Daily Times-Call

When George Greenwood is out fighting fires in Boulder County, old maps are a risk he faces.

“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed from an outdated map,” the Left Hand volunteer firefighter said Friday.

But Greenwood has a solution.

As marketing manager for Longmont-based DigitalGlobe, Greenwood promotes a new product that is the result of a partnership with Colorado Springs-based Native Community Development Corp.

Greenwood explained the new technology to a small audience Friday at the Colorado Innovation Summit in Thornton, organized by the DaVinci Institute and Market Engineering International.

The product, called Wildland Fire Interface, uses digital technology to understand, prepare for and, it is hoped, prevent wildfires, Greenwood said.

DigitalGlobe provides raw images from its high-resolution QuickBird satellite of areas at risk for wildfires. Native Community Development then takes the images and interprets the information into usable data.

The partnership is key to the success of WFI, according to Greenwood, but it was not an easy sell for the self-described “nonpolitical” middleman.

“I had to convince DigitalGlobe to work with a partner to build a product that we can both profit from,” he said, adding that partnership now is paying off.

“We’re moving product,” he told the audience.

According to Greenwood, even in Boulder County, which has one of the most progressive systems for using GIS data, “We still go out on fires with outdated maps.”

QuickBird satellite images, with their 2-foot resolution capabilities, can provide maps of high-density forest areas, roads, rivers, structures, roof composition and priority protection sites. That information then can be used to assess wildfire risk in communities and regions.

That’s where Native Community comes in.

Gene Keluche, chairman and CEO of the company, said Friday that his end of the product is to create sustainable development plans.

“I’ve always been about 20 years ahead of the market,” Keluche said.

This time, Keluche said, timing with the market is dead on.

And partnering with DigitalGlobe was a natural.

“We realized that this is very powerful technology that we can use,” he said.

DigitalGlobe found Native Community and initiated the partnership, but Keluche admits that his corporation was looking to be found.

“We were noisy,” he told the audience.

Justin Dombrowski of the Boulder Fire Department’s wildland fire division collaborated with DigitalGlobe and Native Community on a pilot project to improve wildland fire management in the Sunshine Canyon area west of Boulder.

Dombrowski said WFI is useful because it “provides a lot of information, quickly, with a high quality for a relatively low cost.

For example, he said WFI could be used to identify structures not yet in compliance with Boulder’s 1994 ban on wood shingle roofs.

All new buildings have to be built with noncombustible shingles and existing structures have to be in compliance with the ban by 2014.

“It’s good to know where those are,” Dombrowski said. “That’s easy kindling for fires.”

According to David Nale, DigitalGlobe’s vice president of commercial markets, the technology forecast for DigitalGlobe is only looking better.

He said the company hopes to launch two additional satellites that will outperform QuickBird. WorldView 60 and WorldView 110 are schedule to be launched into orbit by next fall.

“Whether we’re in Denver or Beijing — anywhere in the world — we can collect images,” Nale said Friday.

Abbe Smith can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 389, or by e-mail at asmith@times-call.com.