april 2013

Over the past few years, fire and aviation management has been benefiting from changes in information technology. The most important change is the readily accessible mobile technologies such as smartphones, tablets and mobile applications. The benefits of these devices are increased mobility and the real-time or near real-time information transfer capabilities. This enables firefighters to support standard radio communications with photos, detailed mapping and same-time data on fire activity, ultimately painting a more complete picture for all fire resources.

Currently, fire and aviation resources are relying heavily on the geospatial capabilities of mobile devices, the ease of completing administrative duties while in remote environments and taking advantage of increasing situational awareness with fingertip access to up-to-date weather information. The end result of this technology use is that more comprehensive information is available to make timely and appropriate management decisions and actions (Figure 1).

Fig. 1. Fire Behavior Analyst mapping and noting real- time fire behavior with his mobile tablet during a reconnaissance flight on the McGuire Complex, 2012.

Where Do We Need to Go – and Why?

What’s new this coming fire season is the increased emphasis on collaborative, real-time information transfer in different mobile applications as well as some established standard operating procedures for use of mobile technologies on fire incidents. In parallel with that, more applications are being fine-tuned for remote fire environments: An example is offline caching ability of maps. This is being pushed from the bottom up – fire resources using their personal mobile devices to do their jobs better.

Agencies and stakeholders need to coordinate together to support fire and aviation management operations with these emerging technologies. That means collaboration at a national level is the key to preventing duplicative projects – leveraging and documenting each other’s successes and operating across boundaries – just like fire. It’s very important that the digital and spatial data these new technologies and tools produce is seamlessly incorporated into existing fire management systems and that information integrity is kept. Additionally, fire and aviation management needs to continue efforts to keep abreast of emerging new technologies in order to meet the dynamic, critical needs of fire resources.

How Do We Get There?

In order to fully integrate emerging technologies into fire and aviation management strategies as well as remain flexible to changes, best management practices and procedures must be developed, and standards must be updated and applied across interagency boundaries. Interagency funding and support for the development of new technologies – and getting these into the hands of fire and aviation personnel – is paramount in achieving a safe, efficient and highly effective workforce. That will require continually defining business requirements, capturing field level innovation and ensuring new technology information is integrated into current programs and applications so the benefits of these technologies are maximized.

Lorri Peltz-Lewis is the FAM GIS Coordinator for Region 5. Peltz-Lewis works extensively with fire and aviation management personnel to 
create mobile mapping products for their devices with specific agency data.

Esther Godson is a Project Lead with Missoula Technology and Development Center. Godson has over 13 years experience in primary fire and focuses on testing emerging mobile technologies and defining the technology requirements of fire and aviation personnel.