Fire Enterprise Geospatial Portal keeps responders ahead of the fire line

GIS portal keeps responders ahead of the fireline

The Forest Service next year plans a full release of the Fire Enterprise Geospatial Portal (EGP), a geospatial tool that during a five-year development period has helped fuse data sets scattered across the forest fire fighting community.

The portal lets firefighters see current and historical fire activity, including resources as they are being moved around a fire.

While work still needs to be completed before its full 2015 release, including in the areas of connectivity and security, Fire EGP already integrates 40 data sets provided by more than a dozen federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA.

The portal has also been deployed in active emergencies, including recent flooding in western states. “When we had the floods in Colorado last year, we deployed an incident management team and fire crews,” said Sean Triplett, a Forest Service Project Manager and early developer of the fusion tool.

“We worked with FEMA, the Colorado Department of Transportation and other folks, and we pulled in their data to see where the flooded and impacted areas were in relation to where our fire crews and incident management teams were working.” 

Triplett is one of the original developers of the technology since before he joined the federal Forest Service.

At the time, he worked for the Alaska Fire Service. A lot of his time was spent gathering data – about terrain, weather conditions, fires and equipment  – from different sources and distilling it into useful information for those fighting fires. 

“I was the geospatial person,” said Triplett.  “At that time, web-mapping technologies were relatively new, but I knew there was a way we could pull all this information together and get it into a web portal. We were successful with that in Alaska, but it was just for Alaska and our partners up there.”

When he joined the federal Forest Service in October 2008, Triplett had the chance to create a portal on a much grander scale.  While the Forest Service had access to a wide array of data sets from federal agencies, the data was scattered, and there was no effective way to integrate it for analysis.  “There was really no way for anybody to take that data, improve upon it and then bring it into a desktop GIS,” said Triplett.

So starting in 2009, Triplett and a colleague at the National Interagency Fire Center began developing the Fire EGP.

The portal was designed using Esri geospatial software and Google Earth, with Microsoft SQL Server as its back-end database.   Most of the Fire EGP data sets are resident in the originating agency and stream to the portal on demand. This, Triplett said, reduces the need to manage data updates from other agencies across the portal.

Triplett said he decided to build the client side using Javascript and HTML5 exclusively to keep costs down and preclude the need to provide application updates for multiple platforms.  Instead, the portal is accessed using any browser.

The portal currently offers three primary ways for federal agencies, as well as state and local partners, to access the data.

The Fire Globe offers 2D and 3D views of the United States.  Users can view actual wildland fire perimeters as well as layers showing temperature, wind direction and speed, precipitation and fuel moisture measurements.  Users can also access forecasts, predictions of fire movements, currently assigned resources and the availability of other resources. 

Fire EGP’s SituationAnalyst (SA) and the Geospatial Dashboard and Analysis Tool (GDAT) each offer an array of analytic tools for working with the integrated data sets.  SA is focused on providing a common operational picture, along with geospatial and imagery analysis.  GDAT offers business analytics tools.

The portal also makes an Incident Control Console available to authorized users that provides additional analytic views of wildland fire-related data and statistics.

Although Fire EGP is not available to the public, “it is accessible by federal agencies, and we have partnerships with several states and counties,” Triplett said. “It has been used in decision-support processes at what we call ‘geographic area coordination centers,’ which is where they look at the geographic area strategically and help prioritize and manage fires.” 

The main chore still to be accomplished before going fully operational, Triplett said, is completing all the required security controls to protect the data in the system.  “We are pretty close to that,” he said.

In the meantime, Triplett is looking to make other improvements. 

On the top of the list is connectivity in the field.  “Our mobile side only works as well as the connectivity,” Triplett said.  “When we fight wildland fires, [connectivity] is a major issue for us.  We’ve had some firefighters come up with some pretty ingenious ways to distribute wireless networks or wave relay systems out to the hinterland.” And when real-time access is an issue, firefighters can download maps to their mobile devices before they head into the field.

Triplett’s team is also working to add new data and functionality.  “Right now, we’re working with partners at the Bureau of Land Management to build in an authenticated system so we can view comprehensive and real-time lightning data,” Triplett said. 

Finally, said Triplett, “We’re really focusing on integrating with mobile devices and making our approach to data management more streamlined so performance is better on mobile devices.”

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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