Bay Area start-up working to raise awareness about rising sea levels

COYOTE POINT, Calif.  (KTVU) -- The phrase "wise as an owl" has taken on new meaning. That's because a Bay Area start-up is working with Cal and federal agencies to help people learn more about rising sea levels.

San Mateo County may be California's most vulnerable area to rising tides because it is surrounded by the sea and the bay.

At Coyote Point on Thursday, state and local agencies installed free high tech viewers that resembled old vista point viewers that needed money to operate. The goal is for viewers to look into the future.  The viewers are the product of a company named Owlized, a virtual reality viewer that shows users the future or history of a location.

We want "to show the public how sea level rise is going to impact this exact surrounding area," said Aaron Selverston, a founder of Owlized. "And also to show some potential response options."

Using data, maps and graphics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the U.S. Geological Survey, the viewers, made by Owlized, show what the area will look like as sea level rise goes higher and higher.

"It's hard to see it and unless we can see it, it's hard to believe it and, in turn, start planning for it." said Juliette Hayes, a Federal Emergency Management Agency risk assessor. "This really gets the conversation going in a positive way and help people envision a future they might want. I think this helps people look at solutions." 

Said Dave Pine, a San Mateo County Supervisor: "When you think about the future, it's so important to have a visualization of what it will be like. So, this toll will make people think about the future in a very different way. And, help us, as policy makers, to try to start to make the take the action we need to protect against sea level rise."

Two owls will be set up in San Francisco next year but Pine said they should be available throughout the Bay Area.

"The closer to home, the more people respond to a challenge," he said. "There's no one solution; no 'one size fits all' and the conversation has to be around, 'What are the things you want to do to achieve your goal and be the community you want to be?'"

by KTVU reporter Tom Vacar.