“From New Zealand, I watch the fires in California. Online and without ever setting foot in the United States.” |  digital transformation |  technology

“From New Zealand, I watch the fires in California. Online and without ever setting foot in the United States.” | digital transformation | technology

A fire in Sequoia National Park (California) in September 2021. It is one of those fires that Sylvester watches closely from his home in New Zealand.Patrick Ty Fallon (AFP)

A California resident watches smoke from his home in the woods. Go to social networks and the official channels still don’t offer anything, not of course radio or TV. He begins to fidget. Finally, in the networks, he found an account called Tweet embed [escáner de incendios en California] Which gives some indications about the scope and direction of the fire. The big contradiction in this hypothetical and potential situation is that the sole director of CAFireScanner is Michael Sylvester, 30, of Te Aroha, a rural community of about 4,000 residents in New Zealand. And that he never left New Zealand, let alone went to California.

Silvester’s story is an example of the Internet’s resilience to improving people’s resources: how can a young New Zealander with very specific skills and interests deploy them at their convenience without leaving home? “I know it’s crazy, but the technology available helps me a lot, which is not available in other parts of the world,” he says. Sylvester case magazine revealed wiredAnd He even sent a photographer to his house to take a picture of him from behind. When EL PAÍS interviewed Silvester via video call, he advised him that he preferred to continue to maintain the physical anonymity of his account.

Sylvester’s interest in this world stems from listening to his fascination with police and fire stations in his spare time. “One of the things that makes it so much fun is that you never know what’s going to happen, and no two days are the same,” he explains. As a teenager he started listening to these transmissions with his firefighter father. Hence his hobby grew. Gradually he realizes that heaven for those interested in listening to the authorities’ stations is the US “A lot of other places are encrypted, and it’s illegal or you have to go through a lot of bureaucracy,” he explains.

In Spain, this activity of listening to and broadcasting the frequencies of the security forces is illegal, according to David Marugan, an expert in radio communications: “In Spain it is completely forbidden. Although there are some frequencies that can technically be listened to because they become unencrypted, However, it is completely illegal. The General Telecommunications Law states that both listening and broadcasting are prohibited.” Spanish legislation is close to what is usual in the rest of the world, with the United States being the exception: “In the rest of the countries, it is usually similar, except for the United States. Historically, they have an effort that citizens can make that their security forces scrutinize and although there are bodies that encrypt them, the Public police and firefighters broadcast it publicly,” Marugan adds.

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Your main tool for tracking California fires is a page called Broadcasting, where ordinary users upload the uninterrupted theme to their local stations on the Internet. Silvester contains the most important broadcasts in your browser’s “Favourites”. To figure out which of the roughly 800 California fire departments to follow, Silvester uses an app called PulsePoint, which broadcasts emergency signals from across the United States, from a neighbor’s cardiorespiratory arrest to a fire. “These informative notifications provide early warning of local threats, such as wildfires, floods, and facility emergencies,” says the information in the app. In the Android Play Store.

Each phone with its own PulsePoint app provides information on 25 services. To cover nearly all of California, Silvester has four cell phones connected to 100 services. When the alarm rings, you get a warning. Silvester holds a degree in computer science, so writing a little program to automate his processes is easy for him. Working remotely from home for an American company, he finds it easy to organize to cover the fires, which tend to be in California summers, from May to October, when it’s winter in New Zealand and Sylvester is less inclined to go out. “It always rains here in the winter,” he says.

The California area is particularly suitable for this type of coverage. In addition to open emergency systems, there are many people who live in rural areas. The CAFireScanner account has more than 100,000 followers: “There are a lot of people affected. In other states, there are fewer people, and it’s hard to get information. California has a very unique system. This system really helps me,” says Sylvester. His account is the main one that covers the entire state, but there are a handful of people who keep a close eye on activity in their counties or counties. “Fire Twitter” or “Fire Twitter”.

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This path of coincidences leads to other pending accounts from your counties or regions in California. But only Sylvester watches the whole area. In addition to direct application and application, he uses a series of resources about weather or seaplane flights that help him determine the development of fires. “I am particularly familiar with wind, temperature and humidity,” he says. You always have tabs open in your browser with weather and page details Flight radar 24, to see flights in the area of ​​u200bu200bfirefighting aircraft. Your third indispensable tool in the browser is a page with hundreds of webcams. “Another great resource in California is the wildfire cam network. They have 800 cameras around California in the most fire-prone areas and they are very quick to point the camera at the fire. So you can see where the fire is and how big it is,” he says.

Official channels usually limit their communication to the time of the official press conference and are not above the same level as Silvester. “Not to criticize them or anything else, but I’d say they lack real subtlety. These firefighting agencies have a small area to monitor and they stay there. They don’t know what’s happening at the other end of the state. On the other hand, I know the hottest or windy areas and may I cared about where the most dangerous points are, and that’s what I’m studying. So if I see a fire in one of those areas, it becomes a priority in my head.” Your business can actually become paid if an agency in California wants to pay for it. At the moment it doesn’t look like it will happen. Meanwhile, Silvester has been activated crowdfunding system Dozens of people donated and left messages of appreciation: “I trust your experience every California fire season” or “Great job, glad you’re there.”

Silvester started his California specific business in 2016. He changed his Twitter name to CAFireScanner and started his media business. In the Curriculum Vitae From his Twitter account, he states that “the tweets are not official and should not be treated as such.” His goal is to provide more information at a time when any detail could save a life: “I’m just saying where the fire is going so the people who live there leave their homes, and that’s my main goal. I make sure to keep people informed and that people see the smoke in a nutshell of what’s going on” .

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Besides technology, there’s another thing that made Silvester’s work stand out: the scale of the fires. “I started in earnest in 2016, but in 2017 things started to get serious with the Thomas fire. This was the largest in recent history. But since then there have been seven more. Today that is only number eight ″. None of these eight is the deadliest, which occurred in November 2018, outside of the usual fire season. On that day, Sylvester went to bed in New Zealand without knowing that a catastrophe was underway in which 85 people would die. Since then, he’s created a system where an alarm goes off if something big happens, to wake him up. Sylvester admits that if he simply closed his Twitter account, his life would be much easier. He asks, “But what am I going to do next?”

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