Siren central

Mapping app guides agencies' wildfire strategy

When forest fires scorch the West later this year, firefighting managers will use Web services to plan their moves.

The Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination site, at, gives real-time data to managers during large brush fires and woodland blazes, said Craig Skalet, chief of the Geological Survey's Rocky Mountain Mapping Center in Denver.

Through the GeoMAC consortium, USGS delivers data from its interactive National Map service to a number of firefighting partners, Skalet said.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, coordinates the GeoMAC partnership. Participants include the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and National Weather Service.

The Geological Survey has participated in the partnership for three fire seasons, Skalet said, but not until last year were prototype Web services available.

The data GeoMAC imports from the National Map is the same as on USGS' 1:24,000-scale topographic maps, Skalet said.

Although the topographic data catalog resides at the Geological Survey's Mid-Continent Mapping Center in Rolla, Mo., the Web services that power the National Map are hosted in Denver, said Stan Wilds, president of Parallel Inc. of Conifer, Colo.

GeoMAC marries geospatial data from the National Map to other data from the GeoMAC consortium partners. It combines fire perimeter data uploaded from the actual sites with satellite-derived information, Wilds said. EarthWhere software from SANZ Inc. of Castle Rock, Colo., delivers the data to end users.

Fire perimeter and transportation data sets are not in the SANZ system but stored in ArcSDE from ESRI of Redlands, Calif. GeoMAC's foundation is ArcIMS, another Web application from ESRI, using ArcSDE SQL Server.

The SANZ EarthWhere app handles raster data sets, such as imagery and elevation data, while ArcSDE handles vector data, Skalet said. Images are stored on a so-called nearline robotic tape system for faster retrieval than from an offline system. 'It's a good way to organize the imagery data to support the user requirements,' Skalet said.

The vector and raster data sets are fully integrated in the Web app, Wilds said.

The best-known USGS topographical survey divides the contiguous 48 states into tiles commonly known as 7.5-minute quadrangles.

GeoMAC users choose the data sets they are interested in, and the SANZ software assembles topographic data from multiple 7.5-minute tiles into one file.

Wilds said his company works under contract with USGS on a variety of activities, principally data integration. The contractors prepare the data sets to be loaded into the databases and used by the Web applications.

The public GeoMAC Web site gets plenty of traffic, Wilds said. In late October last year, for example, it registered 3 million to 4 million hits per day.

The system had been stress-tested for 1 million hits six months before the October fire season, but Geological Survey officials never thought it would reach that level. Actual user load greatly exceeded expectations, Skalet said.

To keep the app from slowing down under millions of hits, the team slightly changed the Web services in terms of what data was automatically turned on in the viewer.

'We had to figure out where to tweak the load among the databases as well as the Web servers,' Wilds said.

GeoMAC runs on a variety of back-end platforms, including Microsoft Windows 2000, proprietary Unix and Linux for the SANZ application, Wilds said. The client end requires a modern Web browser with JavaScript enabled and works best with a screen resolution of 800 by 600 pixels or higher.

Besides, the Geological Survey operates password-protected sites for fire managers who need more information than the public site has.

The project serves strategic and tactical planning rather than on-the-ground operations, Skalet said. GeoMAC links directly to the Agriculture Department's data servers. When a fire reaches a certain size, it becomes nationally recognized by the fire information center and is marked on GeoMAC maps with a small triangle.

Among the data sets loaded in GeoMAC are those from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Advanced Very-High-Resolution Radiometer satellite and NASA's Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer satellite.

AVHRR has coarse-scale sensors to detect heat over areas larger than a square kilometer, Wilds said. The Forest Service's office in Ogden, Utah, processes the AVHRR data, which the Rocky Mountain Mapping Center uploads to the GeoMAC site four times per day.

MODIS data is similar to AVHRR's but with higher, 250-meter resolution. The Forest Service processes that data four times a day at a Salt Lake City center.

GeoMAC also receives data from remote automatic weather ground stations maintained by federal and state agencies. Users can click to view the actual status at a particular station.
'It's very handy for the fire managers to see the local weather conditions around an incident,' Wilds said.

The GeoMAC consortium is developing another Web application, the Natural Hazards Support System, to help emergency response managers cope with other hazards such as earthquakes, Wilds said.

The water resources and geologic divisions of the Geological Survey are participating in NHSS, Skalet said.

An NHSS prototype was put together quickly to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency before Hurricane Isabel's arrival on the East Coast last September, Wilds said. 'Once you have all these map layers and the underlying technology in place, you can customize them into just about anything,' Wilds said.


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