Firefighters Pioneer Pocket-Sized GIS Collection
Maps are the foundation for fighting wildfires. They are used for communicating operational assignments, potential spread scenarios, and for providing a visual reference for incident team strategy discussion. Maps answer questions such as "What is the topography in and near the fire?" and "What is the jurisdiction of the fire and where is it likely to spread?" Maps help managers deploy resources safely and assess the potential overall damage of the fire.
(...) n the early stages of a wildfire, it is difficult to obtain good detailed information from a paper map. Information is often gathered from maps, documents, and technical personnel over several days. Using GIS, all of this information is immediately available and can be easily viewed and understood under extremely stressful conditions. It is now common to see a GIS team assigned to an incident in the planning section. GIS teams provide maps showing transportation, facilities, air hazards, spread prediction, operations, and other geographically related incident management information.As part of suppression efforts at the Viejas fire, a Tactical GIS Mapping team collected and displayed real-time fire perimeter data and documented damage assessment information by flying daily helicopter reconnaissance flights and recording accurate geographic coordinates using a handheld computer.
Patterson, who teaches aerial mapping using GPS, was pleased with the performance of this equipment configuration. "Total weight of a Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC and a Garmin GPS III Plus receiver is less than one pound, and the entire GIS data collection platform will easily fit into a flightsuit pocket."
Patterson found that the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC met the demanding requirements for prolonged fire perimeter mapping. The battery lasts 10 to 12 hours, and the color display can be read in bright sunlight. Map data can be stored internally. A Teletype PCMCIA card GPS receiver provides direct connectivity with the computer without a cable. Patterson believes this combination of technologies promises to become a regular fire management tool "as common as the tactical applications of Class A foam."
Appleton sees potential for greater benefit using this system with a wireless connection. This would allow data to be transmitted back to the GIS unit from the air. This capability would enhance firefighter safety. "If division supervisors and operations staff know where the fire is and what is going on with the fire they have a better idea where to put the resources and can make sure those firefighters are safe," said Appleton.