Using GIS During Fire Season

Troy Lambert


As we enter the summer months in the Pacific Northwest, attention turns to fire season. For campers and those who engage in other recreation activities in the forest, they ask “What is the risk, and what will the risk be?”

Those who fight wildland fires ask the same questions for different reasons. Not only do they need to have personnel trained and on standby, but due to the inevitability of fires during the peak times of fire season, they need to know the best place to stage those personnel.

Every year, GIS users get better at assembling data and creating meaningful maps that help decision makers predict fires, set fire risk levels, and deploy assets in the most efficient manner possible. There are several aspects to this data compilation.

Fire Globe Changes

In January of 2015, Google depreciated support of Google Earth Enterprise. In February of 2016 the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) responded by transferring its Fire Globe app to the ESRI platform. The Fire Globe app is used by eight federal agencies and organizations to coordinate fire efforts and attempt to prevent duplication of services.

Fire Globe is part of NIFC’s GIS, Fire Enterprise Geospatial Portal (Fire EGP), which also operates on the Esri platform.
Fire Globe is part of NIFC’s GIS, Fire Enterprise Geospatial Portal (Fire EGP), which also operates on the Esri platform.

Why is this an important development? Because many local fire departments use Spillman Fire GIS software to coordinate their dispatch and fire fighting activities, and Spillman also works directly with ESRI GIS server, eliminating the need to load a map into the database. This integration allows both programs to easily work together using the same map, facilitating local and Federal cooperation.

Predictive Analytics

The NIFC uses layers of data, including snowpack, precipitation, temperature from previous months combined with predictions for future months, and divides this information into different regions  in the Geographic Area Coordination Center. Clicking on a particular area breaks down the daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal fire forecast.

Map of fire forecast showing seven-day fire potential. Source: NIFC
Map of fire forecast showing seven-day fire potential. Source: NIFC

The combination of this data with the national forecast and the likelihood of La Nina and El NIno conditions allows for not only general predictions, but even accurate pinpoint predictions about fire behavior. The ability to gather more specific data and analyze it quickly has made better predictive analytics possible.

Social Listening and Hashtags Relating to Fire Mapping

While often business talks about social listening to capture quantifiable data, increasingly Twitter and other social media outlets are not only where people get their news, but where they report it as well.

What makes this data quantifiable is not counting the number of likes, followers, or even reactions. One of the prime identifiers of conversation is the use of hashtags or keywords. The use of multiple hashtags Tweeting to several different accounts can provide a glut of information that is just a paralyzing to responders as a lack of data.

So the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has published a report about the use of hashtags during natural disasters. The Philippines have done a good job of this, including creating an official crisis hashtag policy.

The beauty of the use of hashtags is that the information is already geocoded if the user has location enabled on their mobile device. OCHA recommends standardizing reporting, so using things like #iSee and #iReport allows information to flow seamlessly from citizens to first responders.

The use of these hashtags in the reporting of wildfire developments and the gathering of photos and other data can be easily done by releasing specific hashtags through the news media, letting citizens know how to report events from their positions, at the same time enabling GIS technicians to map and correlate data about events in a near-live manner.

Fire Globe changes, better predictive analytics, and social listening and the standardization of the use of hashtags makes it possible for fire officials to respond to wildfires faster and more efficiently. In turn, this makes our public lands safer and more usable for all of us.

Of Interest:

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About the author
Troy Lambert
Troy Lambert is an author and editor who began using GIS for historical research at a museum He prides himself on thinking of new ways GIS can be used to tackle issues or approach them in a different way. He lives and works in Boise, Idaho with his fiance, 13 year old son, and two very bright dogs.

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