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Bill Would Create New Tech Research Office

The proposed legislation, from state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, is aimed at driving public-private collaboration on IT that can help authorities grapple with natural disasters like California’s historic wildfires.

Nighttime wildfire, electrical lines foreground
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A disaster preparedness bill from a Northern California lawmaker that’s thought likely to clear committee and head to the governor’s desk for a signature could bring opportunity for IT vendors.

State Senate Bill 109, from Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, would create a new office focused on research and development within the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES). It has passed through the Senate and was referred July 5 to the state Assembly Committee on Appropriations, which has yet to hear it. Among the takeaways:

  • SB 109 builds on the California Emergency Services Act, which created CalOES “under the direction of the Director of Emergency Services for the purpose of mitigating the effects of natural, manmade, or war-caused emergencies.” Specifically, the new bill would create the Office of Emergency Technology Research and Development within CalOES and controlled by its director, “until Jan. 1, 2029.” The new office would be charged with “receiving, researching, developing, testing, evaluating, and making recommendations to state and local agencies on proposals and tools” to improve California’s emergency planning and preparedness as well as “incident response, and command and control regarding potential emergencies and threats facing the state.” The office would have to consult and coordinate with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) “to the extent necessary and reasonable.”
  • The bill would also establish the Emergency Technology Research and Development Review Advisory Board, which would include among its seven members the secretary of the Natural Resources Agency or a designee, as well as the CalOES and CAL FIRE directors or their designees. The bill would also include one representative each from local government; from the “private emergency response science, engineering, and technology industry;” from “academia involved in the field of emergency preparedness and response”; and one member of the public working as a first responder. That’s according to an analysis of the bill done for the Assembly Committee on Emergency Management in late June. The new office would be subject to review by the board. The board’s findings and recommendations would have to be compiled and presented to the governor and the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2024, and annually thereafter. The board would meet quarterly and its members would be unpaid but compensated for expenses.
  • The bill analysis further characterized the new office’s role as helping to “develop a multimodal research and development program that identifies, researches, tests, and evaluates technological tools, including, but not limited to, ground, aerial, mobile, portable, communication, predictive modeling, software, or stationary equipment” used for the state’s emergency preparedness and by first responders. The office would also “consult with public, private, and nonprofit entities to identify new technologies, tools, and software,” according to the analysis. And it would make recommendations to state and local government on the most effective such technologies and tools for procurement.
  • The area Dodd represents has been hard-hit by wildfires, and SB 109 is among the legislation Dodd has authored that is aimed at improving state and resident response and resilience to wildfires. His SB 209, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in October 2019, created the Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center — activated with more than $5.6 million in general fund monies in FY 2021-2022 and 11 positions in the 2021-2022 Fiscal Year CAL FIRE budget. How much might the new office cost? Per the analysis, the state Senate Committee on Appropriations — which limited the office’s focus to wildfires and didn’t include creating the board — had earlier indicated CalOES anticipated one-time costs of $1.8 million in the first year and $1.7 million annually thereafter.
    “The escalating frequency and devastation caused by wildfires demands that we seek out emerging technology to address this urgent threat,” Dodd told Techwire via email on Friday. “We must tap California’s innovative spirit to find new ways to control fire, which is why research and development is key.”
    Paul Payne, Dodd’s press secretary, added: “I think he’s looking at this as a first step, and when these unique partnerships start to form, ideas will come organically from that and hopefully lead to some very interesting developments.”
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.