Fire Away

Fire Away

Web app developers aim to pool online resources to fight fires faster

Wildfires leave no time for squabbling among agencies or duplicating resources. There's only time to ring the alarm, grab a bucket and pitch in.

That's why the National Wildfire Coordination Group is working on a project to speed the consolidation of resources for fighting forest fires, such as the ones that raged throughout the Western states last summer [GCN/State & Local, October 2000, Page 1]. Called the Resource Ordering and Status System, ROSS will use the Web to help federal, state and local firefighters pull together fire fighting staff, equipment and materials in minutes, not days.

Led by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Wildfire Coordination Group is a consortium of state and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Association of State Foresters.

Situational awareness

The group awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. to develop the ROSS software, which the company delivered earlier this year. Firefighters in local, state and federal agencies will be able to request engines, trucks, equipment and crew members over the ROSS Web site. A firefighter in Louisiana will be able to look up the Fort Rock Ranger Station in Bend, Ore., and check how many firefighters are available there.

Project team leader Jon Skeels, a Forest Service employee, said that once ROSS is fully deployed, sometime next year, fire officials in agencies throughout the nation will be able to 'push a button and see what's happening with a wildfire right now. ROSS will help us give better service to the field and to the taxpayer.'

The primary hosting site for ROSS is the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Information Technology Center in Kansas City, Mo., Skeels said.

The ROSS team also would like to put a central server connection at the U.S. Interior Department's data center in Lakewood, Colo., but Skeels and his crew still are negotiating this.

Each agency runs ROSS on its own network infrastructure, Skeels said. The main ROSS operations run on two IBM RS/6000 enterprise servers in Kansas City. Because there's no time for downtime in a wildfire, both servers have IBM's high-availability cluster multiprocessing utility, Skeels said. 'That means that if any part fails, another part will kick in,' he said.

The production master servers are IBM high-availability F80 cluster servers, and the production slaves are IBM F50 servers. The disk arrays are IBM model 7133 serial disk system arrays. 'Everything is mirrored,' he said.

Mail carrier, too

The ROSS application runs on IBM's version of Unix, AIX Version 4.3 operating system. ROSS stores data in an Oracle8i database.

Firefighters will be able to send mail messages through ROSS over a dispatch message system.

ROSS will also use Big Brother shareware, which is Unix-friendly software that automatically probes the Web to detect pages that have moved or disappeared. The final rollout of ROSS will include a digital mapping feature.

Using Spatial Data Engine and ArcIMS GIS software from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., firefighters will be able to provide digital maps of fires and resources.

The ROSS Web servers are two IBM NetFinity servers, connected with Networker software from Legato Systems Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., which lets one server act as a fail-safe backup for the other.

Users don't need much software or any special hardware other than a Web browser, a TCP/IP connection and a PC with at least 30M of hard drive space, Skeels said.

As of this month, all the bugs are out of ROSS, Skeels said. Now ROSS officials are training firefighters throughout the country.

Once ROSS is fully deployed next year, it will have as many as 6,000 users and 400 dispatch offices.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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