Energy Department, Microsoft Set Up Consortium to Produce AI-Enabled Tools for First Responders

Cire notrevo/Shutterstock.com

At least ten partners from across the government, industry and academia have already signed on.

A strategic new effort steered by the Energy Department’s nascent Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office and Microsoft intends to produce and scale artificial intelligence-driven solutions to help first responders’ better counter natural disasters and protect more property and people in the process.

The First Five Consortium—co-chaired by the two and unveiled Tuesday—connects government, industry, academic and non-profit players to share insights, develop code and deploy technological tools to heighten humanitarian and disaster response and relief. 

“There are just so many technologies where we can solve some of the toughest problems—at a time and in a moment where we're having an explosion of wildfires and floods and some really major natural disasters,” Director of the Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office, or AITO, Cheryl Ingstad said on a call with reporters Monday. “And we think we can bring AI to bear here to help save lives.”

So far, at least 10 partners signed on to be members of First Five, Nextgov confirmed Tuesday. They include: Esri; AT&T; Hangar Alpha; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Pacific Disaster Center; Texas A&M; Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Laboratory—Computer Vision or BAIR-CV; First Net Authority; CrowdAI; the Defense Department; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Organizations looking to get involved can respond via the First Five Portal, which also provides an opportunity for the broader community of first responders to share disaster and relief-related use cases that hold potential for AI to advance. 

Specifically, the consortium will underpin collaborations and efforts to apply AI and deep learning to advance research and development topics involving response to natural events like hurricanes and tornadoes, predicting and containing wildfires, assessing damage in impacted areas, and search and rescue efforts. Ingstad noted that Energy will provide technology capabilities to boost and refine new AI tools and the department’s 17 national laboratories can also engage in cooperative agreements “to put the right talent” to work creating and maturing the assets. 

The range of budding technology that the consortium is honing in on offers the potential for data gathered in the field in real time to be sent to the cloud and used to provide first responders on the ground invaluable insights that could augment their decisions as they pursue frontline efforts—such as better forecasting the direction the flames of a wildfire will head next. Microsoft Federal Chief Technology Officer Susie Adams said on the call that those responding to threatening natural events could eventually be able to consider heaps of data augmented by newly-crafted AI capabilities and use their own education to determine how to best proceed as crises unfold.

“It really is a gamechanger compared to how people are looking at information today,” Adams said.

The consortium has roots in an executive forum focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response hosted by White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination Chris Liddell in January, following which Energy has been working to coordinate new disaster-solving opportunities within the response space. 

Separately, officials within the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center have been working with the National Guard for more than a year to build and advance AI-enabled capabilities in fireline detection and flood damage assessment. The JAIC partnered with Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Lab to scale the deep learning prototypes—and their intention is to make a minimum viable product available to the consortium upon completion, which could help further refine it.

Offering a taste of what the to-be-refined solutions can offer, the center's spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson said on the call Monday that through one effort with the California National Guard and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the JAIC created a tool to provide almost real-time updates of how wildfires escalate in the field. “If you look at the technology that the firefighters were using before, usually they would get an update every hour,” Abrahamson noted. 

Through another effort that’s nearing maturity, the JAIC worked with NOAA, FEMA, and others to create an AI-enabled flood and damage assessment capability. The solution uses overhead imagery from satellites and aircraft to pinpoint areas where water has encroached beyond its normal borders.

“The JAIC's work in fielding minimum viable products and testing and improving those capabilities with the feedback of first-responders and end-users has enabled the JAIC to capitalize from technical-lessons-learned and refine processes—and we are sharing this information with the [Energy Department] and our consortium partners to help them take these projects to the next level and scale them for broader deployment across the federal government,” Abrahamson told Nextgov via email Tuesday.

Abrahamson also confirmed that the consortium has not yet “broached the issue” of data governance or a common cloud infrastructure for all consortium solutions, but he noted that insiders will provide updates as the effort matures.

The name “First Five” was coined after the first responder community shared with the consortium’s creators how the first five minutes “is what matters the most in terms of being able to mitigate the impact of whatever that disaster is,” Jermon Bafaty, a White House fellow assigned to Energy, said on the call. He noted that in 2019 alone there were 14 disasters that  individually cost over a billion dollars in damage—“and that doesn't even count any loss of life that was associated with that.”

Bafaty told Nextgov over email Tuesday that the ultimate hope is that, one year down the line, solutions for humanitarian and disaster response-related events have been deployed across the nation because of collaboration among First Five participants.

“These solutions would have significantly reduced property loss, and more importantly, loss of life—while equipping our first responder community with tools that enable them to better respond to these events,” Bafaty said.

Editor's note: This article was updated to include more information about the consortium's early members.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.