Fighting Fire with Data

Fighting Fire with Data

February 01, 2019

This past year, the most destructive wildfires in California history burned through more than 1.8 million acres of land. While thousands of brave firefighters and first responders risked their lives to fight these wildfires, there were also many people working hard behind the scenes. Keith Weber, geographic information system director at Idaho State University, was one of those people; helping to fight the Woolsey fire with an unexpected weapon: data. At Emergency Reporting (ER), we are all about providing the fire service with the data they need to keep themselves and their communities as safe as possible. That’s why, when we heard that Keith Weber was helping with the Woolsey fire using his new RECOVER software, we were intrigued.

Weber created RECOVER software, mainly, to help with post-fire recovery efforts. It combines 26 layers of data mapped on top of one another. These data layers include maps of topography, roadways, housing locations, soil types, vegetation, and water body locations. This cumulative data set was created with the idea to simplify complex data sets and make using data to make decisions more accessible.

keith weber

While the software was made with the goal of helping in post-fire recovery efforts, Weber and his team were enlisted to help during active fires like the Woolsey fire and 50 others this past season. RECOVER provided data that helped officials anticipate what might happen and make better decisions. It can provide visuals using satellite imagery of the fire and the landscape it occupies including elevation of hills and other environmental information firefighters may need to know before arriving. The Bureau of Land Management used RECOVER to figure out where fires would spread based on identifying adjacent vegetative areas and helped crews stay away from potentially dangerous locations. With the software being available on smartphones and tablets, firefighters can use it to see potential hazards in the area such as a site of a weakened tree that is at risk of falling. The data that RECOVER provides can also help identify areas at risk for debris flow and where debris flows could block essential transportation corridors.

Regarding post-fire recovery efforts, RECOVER can be used to lessen the likelihood of wildfires occurring during the next year’s fire season. Many fire agencies operate controlled burns and trim understory growth during the offseason to reduce the potential for fires; RECOVER maps out where those most vulnerable places are and mark off where they’ve already worked, helping with fuel reduction.

Weber hopes to make RECOVER available nationwide in the near future, and with more mega-fires (fires >100,000 acres) breaking out by the year, it’s becoming even more of a useful tool. As Weber said, “Fire managers need more data to provide them with the information needed to make good decisions.” We agree that data drives the fire service, which is why we’ve created an add-on module in ER to help departments that have adopted the IRWIN (Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information) service which provides an "end-to-end" fire reporting capability. The intent of  the IRWIN service is similar to RECOVER’s , in that it works to improve data quality and can be used to plan for future events and make informed decisions before, during and after a fire.

Whether your department is using IRWIN or not, Emergency Reporting is the only reporting and records management solution on the market that offers Forestry Incident Reporting. Our add-on module – called the Wildland Fire Module – makes it simple to meet IRWIN and national forestry reporting standards in the same report that you already complete for NFIRS, eliminating double data entry and extra paperwork. Check out this Virtual Thursday to learn how to use this module and fill out a Contact Us form to add the module to your current ER service.

To learn more about RECOVER, visit their website or watch this video.



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