If adversity sparks innovation, the deadly Tubbs Fire fueled alumna Bailey Farren to develop Perimeter, a mobile app to help first responders and citizens alike respond more quickly when wildfires approach.
For Farren, 23, the October 2017 inferno in Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties hit more than close to home: Farren’s father, Dan, is a fire captain in Petaluma, and her mom, Sue, is a paramedic. At least 22 people died in the Tubbs Fire, and more than 5,600 structures — half of them in Santa Rosa — burned.
The Farren family home on Santa Rosa’s northeast side survived, but the 2019 UC Berkeley graduate felt more than relief. A recent California Magazine article details Farren’s unrelenting pursuit of a way for first responders to better track oncoming fires and for residents to escape them.
“I spent a lot of time during the year following the Tubbs Fire interviewing evacuees and first responders, and I realized there was a huge gap between the technology Silicon Valley was developing and the [informational] tools firefighters had,” Farren tells writer Glen Martin in the article.
Farren, who earned a double major in cognitive science and rhetoric, is the CEO of Perimeter and heads a seven-member team. Except for one, all are Berkeley alumni; among them is Trevor Greenan, whose childhood home burned in the same fire.
Currently undergoing beta testing, Perimeter is a real-time, data-driven, disaster visualization platform with an interface similar to Google Maps, but augmented with data overlays that allow people to quickly download information from their phones and laptops about where a fire is located and where it’s headed. It also provides data on the factors that influence a fire’s spread, such as wind speed, direction, topography and fuel type.
The technology behind Perimeter includes satellite technology enabled through the app team’s collaboration with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We’re working in conversation with chiefs at Cal Fire, professors in the Berkeley Fire Research Group, NASA’s wildfire management program and hundreds of first responders across Northern California,” adds Farren, who is scheduled to talk next with California senators and city officials.
Shomit Ghose, a College of Engineering lecturer at Berkeley and a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, got to know Farren last year when she was his teaching assistant. While other entrepreneurs are trying to develop better ways to save lives in wildland fires, too, he told Martin that Farren’s motivation sets her apart.
“For her, the big thing isn’t making money,” says Ghose. “She wants to help first responders. People like her parents.”