april 2013

The USDA Forest Service, in partnership with other wildland fire management organizations, is leveraging new mobile technologies to better equip fire managers and firefighters to respond to increasing wildfire risk. The use of mobile technologies will provide greater information access leading to more informed decisions and increased on-the-ground situational awareness.

A Mobile Technologies Integration Team was established and has been evaluating and testing the viability and use of mobile technologies in support of wildland fire and non-fire emergency response operations. Areas of focus for the development team include:

  • incident support operations
  • decision support
  • geospatial information management
  • situational awareness tools.
Kings Peak Wildfire Module member views the updated IR Map on a mobile tablet
during the morning radio briefing at a
spike camp on the Vista Fire in the Selway Wilderness (September 2012

Incident Support

The Mobile Technologies Integration Team began a series of mobile device pilot test projects during the 2011 western fire season. This effort focused on defining use cases and benefits of mobile devices. The
initial review quickly revealed that tablet devices and personal web-enabled smart phones improved employee effectiveness, greatly lessened travel-dictated mobility impacts and increased overall situational awareness through more rapid information availability.

As the work continued in 2012, efforts expanded into fireline operational opportunities. Mobile devices were found to be markedly valuable to firefighters for quickly acquiring real-time decision-support information through browser-based information (e.g., weather updates) and application-accessible information. These devices also allowed operational personnel involved in tactical operations to concurrently complete administrative duties.

Wildland Fire Decision Support

The Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) was developed to support fire managers in decision-making. In use since 2009, new efforts are under way to develop a WFDSS application for portable tablets, smart phones, etc. This will expedite managers’ ability to quickly access the system, view fire situation information and document decisions without being dependent on a computer.

Geospatial Information Management

The importance of the delivery, display and analysis of geospatial information in wildland fire management cannot be overstated. An effort, called the Enterprise Geospatial Portal (EGP), takes advantage of platform agnostic technologies to provide end users with open interfaces to view and exchange geospatial data. EGP gives users improved access to layers of imagery and map data, applications and other services needed by federal, state and local governments during a wildland fire event. It also pools available information resources, eliminates redundancies, and more effectively and efficiently meets the challenges
of managing geospatial data from multiple collaborators and responders.

Improving Managerial Situational Awareness

Geospatial and technology transfer staff at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) are currently engaged in a development effort to create a geospatially based, web-enabled, wildland fire dashboard. This virtual situational awareness tool is currently in limited pilot testing. It will make it possible for decision-makers and planners to quickly and reliably review wildland fire situation information. The dashboard will assemble and display information not currently available from a single source in an immediate timeframe. When used in concert with the WFDSS suite of decision-making software, the dashboard will offer unparalleled interoperability at all levels of command: field users; support staff; fire and incident support managers; interagency partners; and other federal, state and local agencies.

What Does the Future Hold?

Certainly, emerging technology will be utilized to the greatest extent possible to further wildland fire management capability. Two noteworthy efforts are under way to continue application of changing technology and include:

  • Wildland fire managers at the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior (DOI) have laid the groundwork to create a fully functioning, integrated virtual Fire IT support group, called Wildland Fire Information Technology (WFIT). This group is envisioned to evaluate and leverage cloud services in support of wildland fire operations.
  • Mobile technology testing will continue and include development and evaluation of mobile fire applications, smart phone testing, mobile SATCOM capabilities, remote sensing and remote camera testing.

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— Laura L.Hill and Tom Zimmerman

Laura L. Hill is Strategic Planner IT, USDA Forest Service, Fire and Aviation Management; DBA Candidate, Information Technology and Enterprise Management.

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A special thanks to Sean Triplett, FAM IT National Geospatial Lead; Andy Trent, Program Lead, MTDC; Esther Godson, member of the Mobile Technologies Group; and Lorri Peltz-Lewis, FAM GIS coordinator Region 5, for their input and photos.