by Andrew Friedman Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Tuesday the government would not take budgetary considerations into account when making decisions about the wave of brush fires sweeping the country.
But one Jerusalem meteorologist said the ministry has skimped on weather technology that could streamline firefighting efforts during emergencies.
Dr. Barry Lynn, a lecturer in meteorology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the founder/CEO of Weather-it-is-Israel, claimed his company’s advanced weather/wildfire forecast models can provide fire crews with accurate, real time information about weather conditions and their impact on the speed, direction and intensity of a spreading fire.
Lynn said the Public Security Ministry invested in his wildfire forecasting service following the Carmel brush fire in 2010, but he added that the government has been unwilling to fund system improvements.
“After the Carmel Fire, the government commissioned our wildfire forecast model, in order to protect property and save lives,” said Lynn, a native of New York and current resident of Efrat. “That was a responsible, excellent investment and exactly what they should have done, and the system has been used a number of times in big fires since then.
“But now, the system needs a serious upgrade, and the government won’t pay for it. It’s really a crying shame – with the right data and the right technology we could make even better and more timely predictions about where the fire will move, and what the atmospheric variables are that will likely determine the fire’s action and movement,” Lynn said.
Lynn also accused other branches of government of preventing up-to-date technologies from reaching fire officials on the ground. He said that while the Public Security Ministry has, indeed, shown interest in the technology he’s developed, other branches of the government have sidelined outside data suppliers in favor of giving the Israel Meteorological Service de facto authority to provide weather information.
“In theory, the weather data belongs to everybody. It’s public, you can always ask for the info you need. But the Meteorological Service makes it very difficult to actually obtain both forecast information and observations,” said Lynn.
“This means that private industry can’t ‘value-add’ their products — like in the United States — so the public loses out.”
In response, the Public Security Ministry has said that Lynn’s technology would not be useful in some of the current instances because the fires are too close to homes. In response to a series of questions submitted by text message, the Ministry said Lynn’s program served the Ministry well for five years, but added that the system upgrade does not meet their current and future needs.
“The [original] system was built only for open areas, not fires in built-up areas, or bordering on built-up areas. For instance, the system would not be useful to deal with the fire currently raging in the Zichron Yaakov area.
“Barry Lynn offered to upgrade the system a year and a half ago. But the upgrade he proposed did not meet the needs or the budgetary requirements of the Ministry.
“The Ministry intends on developing and upgrading the system over the next year. At the moment, we are at an information-gathering stage, collecting information from fire and emergency services, under the direction of the Ministry’s tenders committee,” the Ministry said.