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The 2020 Good Tech Awards

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like those made by Perimeter, Technosylva and Ignis, three start-ups that are trying to modernize the firefighter’s outdated arsenal.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.

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.

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.