oversight

Geospatial Information: Technologies Hold Promise for Wildland Fire Management, but Challenges Remain

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-08-28.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                            United States General Accounting Office

GAO                         Testimony
                            Before a Public Forum Hosted by
                            Representative Joel Hefley and
                            Representative Mark Udall

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 1 p.m. MDT
Thursday, August 28, 2003   GEOSPATIAL
                            INFORMATION
                            Technologies Hold
                            Promise for Wildland Fire
                            Management, but
                            Challenges Remain
                            Statement of David A. Powner,
                            Acting Director, Information Technology Management
                            Issues




GAO-03-1114T
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                                                August 2003


                                                GEOSPATIAL INFORMATION

                                                Technologies Hold Promise for Wildland
Highlights of GAO-03-1114T, a testimony         Fire Management, but Challenges Remain
before Representative Joel Hefley and
Representative Mark Udall




Over the past decade, a series of               Geospatial information technologies—sensors, systems, and software that
devastating and deadly wildland                 collect, manage, manipulate, analyze, model, and display information about
fires has burned millions of acres              locations on the earth’s surface—can aid in managing wildland fires by
of federal forests, grasslands, and             providing accurate, detailed, and timely information to federal, state, and
deserts each year, requiring federal            local decision makers, fire-fighting personnel, and the public. This
land management agencies to
spend hundreds of millions of
                                                information can be used to help reduce the risk that a fire will become
dollars to fight them. GAO was                  uncontrollable, to respond to critical events while a fire is burning, and to
asked to provide an interim update              aid in recovering from fire disasters. However, there are multiple challenges
on key segments of an ongoing                   to effectively using these technologies to manage wildland fires, including
review of the use of geospatial                 challenges with data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, and the effective use
information technologies in                     of new products. Clearly, effective management of information technology
wildland fire management.                       and resources could help address these challenges. In our final report, due to
Specifically, GAO was asked to                  be issued next month, we will further discuss geospatial information
provide an overview of key                      technologies, challenges to effectively using these technologies, and
geospatial information                          opportunities to improve the effective use of geospatial information
technologies and their uses in                  technologies. We will also make recommendations to address these
different aspects of wildland fire
management and to summarize key
                                                challenges and to improve the use of geospatial technologies in wildland fire
challenges to the effective use of              management.
these technologies. The final report
is expected to be issued in                     Burn Severity Map, Hayman Fire, June 2002
September 2003.

GAO’s review focused on the five
federal agencies that are primarily
responsible for wildland fire
management: the Department of
Agriculture’s Forest Service and
the Department of the Interior’s
National Park Service, Bureau of
Land Management, Fish and
Wildlife Service, and Bureau of
Indian Affairs.

Note: The graphics in this report
are in color and are best viewed
electronically.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-1114T

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above. For
more information, contact David Powner at
(202) 512-9286 or pownerd@gao.gov.
  Congressman Hefley and Congressman Udall:

  We appreciate the opportunity to join in today’s forum to discuss
  our ongoing work on geospatial information technologies that can
  be used to aid in wildland fire management. At your request, we
  will provide an overview of key geospatial information technologies
  and their uses in different phases of wildland fire management. We
  will also discuss key challenges to effectively using these
  technologies. This statement provides an interim update on key
  segments of our ongoing review of the use of geospatial
  information technologies in wildland fire management. We expect
  to issue our final report next month.

  In brief, geospatial information technologies—sensors, systems,
  and software that collect, manage, manipulate, analyze, model, and
  display information about locations on the earth’s surface—can aid
  in managing wildland fires by providing accurate, detailed, and
  timely information to federal, state, and local decision makers, fire-
  fighting personnel, and the public. This information can be used to
  help reduce the risk that a fire will become uncontrollable, to
  respond to critical events while a fire is burning, and to aid in
  recovering from fire disasters.

  However, there are multiple challenges to effectively using
  geospatial technologies—all complicated by the fact that wildland
  fire management extends beyond a single agency’s responsibility
  and requires a collaborative interagency approach. Key challenges
  include issues with geospatial data, systems, infrastructure,
  staffing, and the use of new products.

  Clearly, effective interagency management of information
  resources and technology could help address the challenges faced
  by the wildland fire community in using geospatial information
  technologies. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group—
  comprising representatives from the five land management
  agencies1 and from other federal, state, and tribal organizations—
  has several initiatives planned or under way to address challenges
  to effectively using geospatial technologies and to improve the
  interagency management of information resources. However,
  progress on these initiatives has been slow. In our report, due to be
  issued in September 2003, we further discuss the use of geospatial

  1
   Five federal agencies are primarily responsible for wildland fire management: the
  Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s National
  Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian
  Affairs.



Page 1                                                   GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                     technologies in support of wildland fire management, challenges to
                     effectively using these technologies, and opportunities to address
                     key challenges and to improve the effective use of geospatial
                     technologies. We will also make recommendations to improve the
                     use of geospatial technologies in support of wildland fire
                     management. An overview of the approach we used to perform our
                     work—our objectives, scope, and methodology—is provided in
                     appendix I.


Background
                     Over the past decade, there has been a series of devastating and
                     deadly wildland fires on federal lands. These fires burn millions of
                     acres of forests, grasslands, and deserts each year, and federal land
                     management agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to
                     fight them. Wildland fires also threaten communities that are near
                     federal lands. During the 2002 fire season, approximately 88,458
                     wildland fires burned about 6.9 million acres and cost the federal
                     government over $1.6 billion to suppress. These fires destroyed
                     timber, natural vegetation, wildlife habitats, homes, and
                     businesses, and they severely damaged forest soils and watershed
                     areas for decades to come. The 2002 fires also caused the deaths of
                     23 firefighters and drove thousands of people from their homes.
                     Only 2 years earlier, during the 2000 fire season, approximately
                     123,000 fires had burned more than 8.4 million acres and cost the
                     federal government over $2 billion.

Wildland Fire Management Life Cycle: An Overview
                     Effectively managing wildland fires can be viewed in terms of a life
                     cycle—there are key activities that can be performed before a fire
                     starts to reduce the risk of its becoming uncontrollable; other
                     activities that can take place during a fire to detect the fire before
                     it gets too large and to respond to it; and still others that can be
                     performed after a fire has stopped in order to stabilize,
                     rehabilitate, and restore damaged forests and rangelands.

                 •   Pre-fire activities can include identifying areas that are at risk for
                     wildland fire by assessing changes in vegetation and the
                     accumulation of fuels (including small trees, underbrush, and dead
                     vegetation) as well as these fuels’ proximity to communities; taking
                     action to reduce fuels through a variety of mechanisms (including
                     timber harvesting, management-ignited or prescribed fires,
                     mechanical thinning, and use of natural fires); and monitoring fire


                  Page 2                                         GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
    weather conditions. Other activities during this phase can include
    providing fire preparedness training and strategically deploying
    equipment and personnel resources to at-risk areas.

•   Activities that take place during a fire include detecting fires,
    dispatching resources, planning the initial attack on the fire,
    monitoring and mapping the fire’s spread and behavior, and
    planning and managing subsequent attacks on the fire—if they are
    warranted.

•   Post-fire activities can include assessing the impact of the fire,
    providing emergency stabilization of burned areas to protect life,
    property, and natural resources from post-fire degradation, such as
    flooding, contamination of a watershed area, and surface erosion;
    rehabilitating lands to remove fire debris, repair soils, and plant
    new vegetation; and monitoring the rehabilitation efforts over time
    to ensure that they are on track.

•   Other activities—such as enhancing community awareness—can
    and should take place throughout the fire management life cycle.

    Figure 1 depicts a fire management life cycle, with key activities in
    each phase.

    Figure 1: Wildland Fire Management Activities




Page 3                                              GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
Federal Land Management Responsibilities
                      Five federal agencies share responsibility for managing the
                      majority of our nation’s federal lands—the Department of
                      Agriculture’s Forest Service (FS) and the Department of the
                      Interior’s National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management
                      (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Bureau of Indian Affairs
                      (BIA). While each agency has a different mission and responsibility
                      for different areas and types of land, they work together to address
                      catastrophic wildland fires, which often cross agency boundaries.
                      In addition, state, local, and tribal governments and private
                      individuals own thousands of acres that are adjacent to federal
                      lands and are similarly susceptible to wildland fires. Figure 2
                      shows the number of acres of land managed by each of the five
                      federal agencies.

                      Figure 2: Acres of Land Managed by Federal Land Management Agencies




The National Fire Plan
                      After years of catastrophic fires, in September 2000, the
                      Departments of Agriculture and the Interior jointly issued a report
                      on managing the impact of wildland fires. This report forms the
                      basis of what is now known as the National Fire Plan—a long-term
                      multibillion-dollar effort to address the nation’s risk of wildland
                      fires. The plan directs funding and attention to five key initiatives:

                  •   Hazardous fuels reduction—investing in projects to reduce the
                      buildup of fuels that leads to severe fires.

                  •   Firefighting—ensuring adequate preparedness for future fires by
                      acquiring and maintaining personnel and equipment and by placing




                   Page 4                                          GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                     firefighting resources in locations where they can most effectively
                     be used to respond to fires.

                 •   Rehabilitation and restoration—restoring landscapes and
                     rebuilding ecosystems that have been damaged by wildland fires.

                 •   Community assistance—working directly with communities to
                     ensure that they are adequately protected from fires.

                 •   Accountability—establishing mechanisms to oversee and track
                     progress in implementing the National Fire Plan, which includes
                     developing performance measures, processes for reporting
                     progress, and budgeting information.

                     A key tenet of the National Fire Plan is coordination between
                     government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels to
                     develop strategies and carry out programs. Building on this goal of
                     cooperation, the five land management agencies have worked with
                     state governors and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive
                     strategy and an implementation plan for managing wildland fires,
                     hazardous fuels, and ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation on
                     federal and adjacent state, tribal, and private forest and rangelands
                     in the United States. In developing these integrated plans and
                     initiatives, the land management agencies identified other federal
                     agencies that have roles in wildland fire management: agencies that
                     manage other federal lands, including the Department of Defense
                     and Department of Energy; agencies that research, manage, or use
                     technologies that can aid in wildland fire management, including
                     the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey, the
                     National Aeronautical and Space Administration, the Department
                     of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
                     and the Department of Defense’s National Imagery and Mapping
                     Agency; and agencies with other fire-related responsibilities,
                     including the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal
                     Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection
                     Agency. The integrated plans also identify key state and local
                     organizations that may collaborate on wildland fire management.

An Interagency Framework Supports the National Fire Plan
                     Over the past four decades, the Departments of Agriculture and the
                     Interior have established an interagency framework to handle
                     wildland fire management—a framework that currently supports
                     the National Fire Plan. In 1965, the Forest Service and the Bureau of
                     Land Management established the National Interagency Fire Center,



                  Page 5                                        GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  in Boise, Idaho. The fire center is the nation’s principal
  management and logistical support center for wildland firefighting
  and now includes the five land management agencies, the National
  Weather Service, and the Department of the Interior’s Office of
  Aircraft Services. The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal
  Emergency Management Agency and the National Association of
  State Foresters also have a presence at the center. Working
  together, representatives from this mix of organizations exchange
  fire protection information and training services and coordinate
  and support operations for managing wildland fire incidents while
  they are occurring, throughout the United States.

  In 1976, the departments established the National Wildfire
  Coordinating Group to coordinate government standards for
  wildland fire management and related programs, in order to avoid
  duplicating the various agencies’ efforts and to encourage active
  collaboration among entities. This group comprises representatives
  from the five land management agencies and from other federal,
  state, and tribal organizations. Figure 3 identifies these member
  organizations. The coordinating group seeks to foster more
  effective execution of each agency’s fire management program
  through agreements on common training, equipment, and other
  standards; however, each agency determines whether and how it
  will adopt the group’s proposals. The group is organized into 15
  working teams, which focus on issues including information
  resource management (IRM), fire equipment, training, fire weather,
  and wildland fire education. Most recently, the coordinating group
  established the IRM program management office to further support
  the IRM working team by developing guidance and products. In
  addition, the IRM working team has established two subgroups to
  focus on specific issues involving geospatial information and data
  administration.

  Figure 3: National Wildfire Coordinating Group: Member Organizations




Page 6                                           GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  In recent years, we have reported that despite these interagency
  efforts, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior had
  not established clearly defined and effective leadership for
  ensuring collaboration and coordination among the organizations
  that respond to wildland fires.2 Further, the National Academy of
  Public Administration recommended that the Secretaries of
  Agriculture and the Interior establish a national interagency council
  to achieve more consistent and coordinated efforts in
  implementing national fire policies and plans.3 In response to these
  concerns, in April 2002, the Secretaries of the two departments
  established the Wildland Fire Leadership Council. This council
  comprises senior members of both departments and of key
  external organizations, and is supported by the Forest Service’s
  National Fire Plan Coordinator and the Department of the Interior’s
  Office of Wildland Fire Coordination. The Council is charged with
  providing interagency leadership and oversight to ensure policy
  coordination, accountability, and effective implementation of the
  National Fire Plan and Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.
  Figure 4 identifies members of the Leadership Council.

  Figure 4: Members of the Wildland Fire Leadership Council




  2
    U.S. General Accounting Office, The National Fire Plan: Federal Agencies Are Not
  Organized to Effectively and Efficiently Implement the Plan, GAO-01-1022T (Washington,
  D.C.: July 31, 2001); Severe Wildland Fires: Leadership and Accountability Needed to
  Reduce Risks to Communities and Resources, GAO-02-259 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 31,
  2002); Wildland Fire Management: Improved Planning Will Help Agencies Better Identify
  Fire-Fighting Preparedness Needs, GAO-02-158 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 29, 2002).
  3
    Frank Fairbanks, Henry Gardner, Elizabeth Hill, Keith Mulrooney, Charles Philpot, Karl
  Weick, and Charles Wise, Managing Wildland Fire: Enhancing Capacity to Implement the
  Federal Interagency Policy (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Public Administration,
  December 2001).



Page 7                                                   GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
Numerous Geospatial Technologies Can Be Used to Address
Different Aspects of Wildland Fire Management
               Geospatial information technologies—sensors, systems, and
               software that collect, manage, manipulate, analyze, model, and
               display information about positions on the earth’s surface—can aid
               in managing wildland fires by providing accurate, detailed, and
               timely information to federal, state, and local decision makers, fire-
               fighting personnel, and the public. This information can be used to
               help reduce the risk that a fire will become uncontrollable, to
               respond to critical events while a fire is burning, and to aid in
               recovering from fire disasters.

               Specific examples of geospatial technologies include remote
               sensing systems, the Global Positioning System, and geographic
               information systems. In addition, specialized software can be used
               in conjunction with remote sensing data and geographic
               information systems to manipulate geographic data and allow
               users to analyze, model, and visualize locations and events. Table 1
               describes key geospatial technologies.




             Page 8                                       GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
Table 1: Key Geospatial Technologies

Technology                  Description
Remote                      Remote sensing systems observe data that are either emitted or reflected by the earth
sensing                     and the atmosphere, collecting these data from a distance—such as from a satellite or
systems                     an aerial platform. Remote sensing systems involve different observing technologies,
                            including cameras, scanners, radar and sonar systems, radiometers, lasers, and
                            thermal devices—to name a few—and are capable of collecting data from one or more
                            bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.a Data from different bands provide different
                            kinds of information. For example, data observed in the infrared band can identify heat
                            sources that are not observable in the visible band of the electromagnetic spectrum.
                            When data are collected from multiple bands, a more sophisticated analysis can be
                            performed. Key factors that differentiate one sensor from another include the type(s)
                            of data collected, the resolutionb of the images, the width (or swath) of area covered
                            on the ground, and the rate at which the sensor’s platform revisits an area on the
                            ground.
                            After being observed, remotely sensed data need to be processed—a function which
                            can include referencing the data to a position on earth, calibrating them, and then
                            transforming them into a usable format. The resulting product can be an image or a
                            quantitative data product, which can in turn be used as an input to other geospatial
                            technologies, including geographic information systems and specialized software.
Global                      The Global Positioning System is a constellation of orbiting satellites that provides
Positioning                 navigation data to military and civilian users around the world. These satellites orbit
System                      the earth every 12 hours, emitting continuous navigation signals. With the proper
                            equipment, users can receive these signals and use them to calculate time, location,
                            and velocity. Receivers have been developed for use on aircraft, ships, and land-based
                            vehicles, as well as via mobile hand-held units. Data from the Global Positioning
                            System can be used to reference remotely sensed aerial images or ground-based
                            human observations to specific geographic coordinates, a process called geo-
                            referencing.
Geographic                  A geographic information system (GIS) is a system of computer software, hardware,
information                 and data used to manipulate, analyze, and graphically display a potentially wide array
systems                     of information associated with geographic locations. These systems can receive input
                            from remotely sensed images from satellites and aerial platforms, as well as from other
                            sources including human observation, tabular data, and maps. These systems are
                            capable of relating multiple layers of data (such as roads, vegetation, structures, and
                            utilities) concerning the same geographical location and representing these multiple
                            layers of information as one composite result.
Specialized                 Specialized software for modeling, decision support, and visualization complements the
software                    sensing, positioning, and GIS technologies described above by allowing analysts and
                            managers to analyze data and explore different scenarios—and thereby make better
                            informed decisions. For example, fire behavior specialists use such software to model
                            fire behavior. Inputs to these models come from satellite images as well as weather
                            data, tabular data, and on-the-ground observations.
Source: GAO research and analysis.
a
  A spectral band is a set of adjacent wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum. Examples include the ultraviolet, visible, near
infrared, mid-infrared, and thermal infrared bands.
b
  Spatial resolution is a measure of the size of the smallest feature that can be distinguished in an image. That is, in a 30-meter
resolution image, one could discern objects 30 meters and larger. Images with smaller discernable objects are considered to have
higher resolutions.




                                     Page 9                                                       GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                           While individual technologies can be used to obtain information
                           and products, the integration of these technologies holds promise
                           for providing even more valuable information to decision makers.
                           For example, remote sensing systems provide images that are
                           useful in their own right. However, when images are geo-referenced
                           and combined with other layers of data in a geographic
                           information system—and then used with specialized software—a
                           more sophisticated analysis can be performed and more timely and
                           sound decisions can be made. Figure 5 provides an overview of the
                           relationships among the different technologies and some resulting
                           products.

Figure 5: Overview of the Flow of Data Among Key Geospatial Information Technologies and Resulting
Products of These Technologies




                        Page 10                                          GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
Federal Land Management Agencies Are Using Geospatial Technologies to
Support Wildland Fire Management
                       The geospatial information technologies mentioned above—remote
                       sensing systems, the Global Positioning System, geographic
                       information systems, and specialized softwareare being used to
                       some extent in managing wildland fires. These technologies are
                       used throughout the wildland fire management life cycle. Key
                       examples follow.

Examples of Geospatial Technology Use:
Pre-fire

                       Before a fire starts, local and regional land managers often use
                       vegetation and fuels maps derived from remote sensing data in
                       conjunction with a geographic information system to understand
                       conditions and to identify areas for fuels treatments. Some land
                       management offices have also developed software to help them
                       assess risk areas and prioritize fuels treatment projects. For
                       example, figure 6 depicts a vegetation map, and figure 7 depicts a
                       map showing areas with increased risk of fires. Interestingly, an
                       area that the map identified as being at high risk of fire later
                       burned during the Hayman fire of 2002.




                     Page 11                                     GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 6: Vegetation Map, Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado, August 1999




Page 12                                         GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 7: Fire Hazard Map, Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado, August 1999




  Land management agencies also use geospatial products related to
  the weather to aid in fire planning, detecting, and monitoring
  activities. Weather-based products are derived from ground-based
  lightning detection and weather observing systems as well as from
  fire-related weather predictions from the National Weather Service.



Page 13                                         GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 8 depicts a seasonal fire outlook, and figure 9 depicts a fire
  danger map that is based on daily weather predictions.

  Figure 8: National Wildland Fire Outlook




Page 14                                      GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                       Figure 9: Fire Danger Map




Examples of Geospatial Technology Use:
During-fire

                       During a fire, some fire responders use satellite and aerial imagery,
                       in combination with Global Positioning System data, geographic
                       information systems, and specialized fire behavior modeling
                       software, to obtain information about the fire and to help plan how
                       they will respond to it. For example, the Forest Service uses
                       satellite data to produce images of active fires. Also, the National
                       Interagency Fire Center manages an aerial infrared program that
                       flies aircraft equipped with infrared sensors over large fires to
                       detect heat and fire areas. These images contribute to the
                       development of daily fire perimeter maps. Figure 10 depicts a
                       satellite image of active fires. Figure 11 depicts a satellite image of
                       a fire perimeter, and figure 12 depicts an aerial infrared image and
                       a fire perimeter map based on that image. Some incident teams
                       also use fire growth modeling software to predict the growth of
                       wildland fires in terms of size, intensity, and spread, considering
                       variable terrain, fuels, and weather. Using this information, incident
                       managers are able to estimate short- and long-term fire behaviors,
                       plan for potential fires, communicate concerns and needs to state
                       and local governments and the public, and request and position
                       resources. Figure 13 shows the output of a fire behavior model.



                     Page 15                                       GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 10: Satellite Images of Fires in Northwest United States, July 21, 2003




  Note: Image from NASA’s Aqua satellite, Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer
  (MODIS).




Page 16                                                    GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 11: Satellite Image Showing Early Fire Perimeters for the Rodeo and
  Chediski Fires, Arizona, June 2002




  Note: Image from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat satellite.




Page 17                                                       GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 12: An Aerial Infrared Image and Resulting Fire Perimeter Map




Page 18                                          GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 13: Output of a Fire Behavior Model




  Geospatial technologies are also used to provide information on
  active fires to the general public. The wildland fire community and
  the U.S. Geological Survey established an Internet Web site, at
  www.geomac.gov, to provide access to geospatial information
  about active fires. This site allows visitors to identify the location
  of wildland fires on a broad scale and then focus in to identify
  information on the location and status of specific fires. Figure 14
  shows images from the Web site.




Page 19                                        GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Figure 14: Internet-Based Maps of Active Fires




  It is important to note that there are many commercial products
  and services available for use during a fire—ranging from high-
  resolution aerial and satellite imagery, to handheld Global
  Positioning System devices, to enhanced visualization models, to


Page 20                                            GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                       on-site geographic information systems, equipment, and personnel.
                       Incident commanders responsible for responding to fires often
                       choose to purchase commercial products and services to
                       supplement interagency resources.

Examples of Geospatial Technology Use:
Post-fire

                       After a fire occurs, burned-area teams have recently begun to use
                       remote sensing data in conjunction with geographic information
                       systems to determine the extent of fire damage and to help plan
                       and implement emergency stabilization and rehabilitation efforts.
                       Typical products include burn severity and burn intensity maps.
                       Figure 15 depicts a satellite image and a burn severity map
                       showing areas that have a high priority for emergency stabilization
                       measures. Geospatial technologies also aid in monitoring
                       rehabilitation efforts for years after a fire to ensure that
                       restoration plans are on track.




                     Page 21                                     GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                    Figure 15: Burn Severity Map, Hayman Fire, June 2002




New Uses of Geospatial Information Technologies to Aid in Wildland Fire
Management Are under Development
                    The Forest Service and Interior are researching and developing new
                    applications of geospatial information technologies to support
                    business needs in wildland fire management. In addition, the Joint


                  Page 22                                         GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
    Fire Science Program, a partnership of the five land management
    agencies and the U.S. Geological Survey, funds numerous research
    projects each year on fire and fuels management. Once again, these
    initiatives vary greatly—ranging from research on remote sensing
    systems to the development of interagency information systems
    with geospatial components, to improvements in existing software
    models. Examples of these efforts include the following:

•   Sensor research. Several new research projects are under way on
    LIDAR and hyperspectral sensors.4 For example, a BLM state office
    is researching the use of high-resolution hyperspectral and LIDAR
    imaging technologies for improving the identification of vegetation;
    planning hazardous fuels projects; and monitoring wildland urban
    interface projects, the effects of wildland fires, and fire
    rehabilitation efforts. Additionally, the Forest Service is exploring
    the use of mobile LIDAR systems for assessing smoke plumes, and
    it is conducting research on using LIDAR data, satellite data, and
    modeling techniques to forecast air quality after a fire.

•   Vegetation data and tools. The five land management agencies and
    the U.S. Geological Survey are working together to develop a
    national geospatial dataset and a set of modeling tools for wildland
    fire planning. This effort, called LANDFIRE, is to provide a
    comprehensive package of spatial data layers, models, and tools
    needed by land and fire managers. The system is expected to help
    prioritize, plan, complete, and monitor fuel treatment and
    restoration projects on national, regional, and local scales. A
    prototype of the system covers central Utah and Northwestern
    Montana and is expected to be completed by April 2005.

•   Interagency information systems. The five land management
    agencies are developing information systems for use by Interior
    and Forest Service offices to track efforts under the National Fire
    Plan. The National Fire Plan Operations and Reporting System is an
    interagency system designed to assist field personnel in managing
    and reporting accomplishments for work conducted under the
    National Fire Plan. It is a Web-based data collection tool with
    geographic information system (GIS) support that locates projects
    and treatments. It consists of three modules—hazardous fuels
    reduction, restoration and rehabilitation, and community
    assistance. While the agencies are currently using the system, it will
    not be fully operational until 2004. Another information system,
    the Fire Program Analysis system, is an interagency planning tool

    4
     LIDAR sensors measure the reflection of emitted light; hyperspectral sensors observe
    data in multiple contiguous channels of the electromagnetic spectrum.



Page 23                                                    GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                 for analysis and budgeting to be used by the five federal wildland
                 fire management agencies. The first module—preparedness—is
                 scheduled for implementation in September 2004 and will evaluate
                 the cost effectiveness of alternative initial attack operations in
                 meeting multiple fire management objectives. Additional system
                 modules are expected to provide geospatial capabilities and to
                 address extended attack, large fires and national fire resources,
                 hazardous fuels reduction, wildland fire use, and fire prevention.

             •   Improvements in existing systems. There are multiple efforts
                 planned or under way to improve existing systems or to add
                 geospatial components to systems that are currently under
                 development. For example, researchers at a federal fire sciences
                 laboratory are exploring possible improvements to the Wildland
                 Fire Assessment System, an Internet-based system that provides
                 information on a broad area of national fire potential and weather
                 maps for fire managers and the general public. Specifically,
                 researchers are working to develop products that depict moisture
                 levels in live fuels, which will aid in assessing the potential for
                 wildland fires.


The Wildland Fire Community Faces Numerous Challenges in
Using Geospatial Information Technologies Effectively
                 There are numerous challenges in using geospatial information
                 technologies effectively in the wildland fire community. Key
                 challenges involve data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, and the
                 effective use of new products and technologies—all complicated by
                 the fact that wildland fire management extends beyond a single
                 agency’s responsibility.

             •   Data issues. Users of geospatial information have noted problems
                 in acquiring compatible and comprehensive geospatial data. For
                 example, GIS specialists involved in fighting fires reported that
                 they did not have ready access to the geospatial data they needed.
                 They noted that some local jurisdictions have geospatial data, but
                 others do not. Further, they reported that the data from
                 neighboring jurisdictions are often incompatible. Geospatial
                 information specialists reported that the first days at a wildland
                 fire are spent trying to gather the geospatial information needed to
                 accurately map the fire. While concerns with data availability and
                 compatibility are often noted during fire incidents, these issues are
                 also evident before and after fire incidents. For example, we
                 recently reported that the five land management agencies did not


             Page 24                                        GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  know how effective their post-fire emergency stabilization and
  rehabilitation treatments were because, among other reasons, local
  land units do not routinely collect comparable information.5 As a
  result of unavailable or incompatible data, decision makers often
  lack the timely, integrated information they need to make sound
  decisions in managing different aspects of wildland fire.

  On a related note, the development of data standards is a well-
  recognized solution for addressing some of the problems
  mentioned above, but there are currently no nationally recognized
  geospatial data standards for use on fires. GIS specialists
  frequently cited a need for common, interagency geospatial data
  standards for use with fires. They noted that the land management
  agencies and states do not record information about fires—such as
  fire location, fire perimeter, or the date of different fire
  perimeters—in the same way.

  System issues. In 1996, NWCG reported that there was a
  duplication of information systems and computer applications
  supporting wildland fire management, noting that agencies were
  using 15 different weather-related software applications, 9 logistics
  applications, and 7 dispatch applications.6 Since that time, the
  number of applications has grown—as has the potential for
  duplication of effort. Duplicative systems not only waste limited
  funds, but they also make interoperability between systems more
  difficult.

  This issue is complicated by the fact that there is no single,
  comprehensive inventory of information systems and applications
  that could be of use to others in the interagency wildland fire
  community. A single comprehensive inventory would allow the
  wildland fire community to identify and learn about available
  applications and tools, and to avoid duplicating efforts to develop
  new applications. We identified five different inventories of
  software applications—including information systems, models, and
  tools—that are currently being used in support of wildland fire
  management. While these listings are not limited to geospatial
  applications, many of the applications have geospatial components.
  The most comprehensive listing is an inventory managed by NWCG.


  5
    General Accounting Office, Wildland Fires: Better Information Needed on Effectiveness of
  Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Treatments, GAO-03-430 (Washington, D.C.:
  Apr. 4, 2003).
  6
    National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Information Resource Management Strategy
  Project: Wildland Fire Business Model (National Interagency Fire Center: August 1996).




Page 25                                                    GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  This inventory identifies 199 applications used in support of
  wildland fire, but even this inventory is not complete. That is, it did
  not include 45 applications that were included in the other
  inventories. Additionally, it did not include 23 applications that we
  had identified.

  Infrastructure issues. Many geospatial specialists noted that there
  are problems in getting equipment, networking capabilities, and
  Internet access to the areas that need them during a fire. For
  example, at a recent fire in a remote location, geospatial specialists
  reported that they were unable to produce needed information and
  maps because they had problems with networking capabilities.
  Again, this issue is critical during a fire, when incident teams try to
  set up a command center in a remote location. However, it is also
  an issue when federal regional managers try to obtain consistent
  information from the different land management agencies’ field
  offices before or after fires. The majority of local field offices have
  equipment to support geospatial information and analysis, but
  some do not.

  Staffing issues. Geospatial specialists noted that the training and
  qualifications of the GIS specialists who support fire incidents is
  not consistent. Specifically, officials noted that skills and
  qualifications vary widely among those who work with geographic
  information systems. For example, some GIS specialists are capable
  of interpreting infrared images as well as developing maps, but
  others are not. Some have experience working with GIS applications
  but are not specifically trained to develop GIS maps for fires.

  Use of new products. While many commercial vendors are
  developing geospatial products and services that could be of use to
  the wildland fire community—including advanced satellite and
  aerial imaging; GIS applications and equipment; and advanced
  mapping products including analyses, visualization, and
  modeling—many have expressed concern that the wildland fire
  community is not aware of these advancements or has little
  funding for these products. Land managers acknowledged the
  value of many of these products, but noted that they need to be
  driven by business needs. Agency officials also expressed concern
  that the cost of these products and services can be prohibitive and
  that licensing restrictions would keep them from sharing the
  commercial data and products with others in the wildland fire
  community.

  Clearly, effective interagency management of information
  resources and technology could help address the challenges faced


Page 26                                       GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  by the wildland fire community in using geospatial information
  technologies. Such an approach could address the implementation
  and enforcement of national geospatial data standards for
  managing wildland fires; an interagency strategic approach to
  systems and infrastructure development; a plan for ensuring
  consistent equipment and training throughout the wildland fire
  community; and a thorough evaluation of user needs and
  opportunities for meeting those needs through new products and
  technologies.

  The National Wildfire Coordinating Group—comprising
  representatives from the five land management agencies and from
  other federal, state, and tribal organizations—has several initiatives
  planned or under way to address challenges to effectively using
  geospatial technologies and to improve the interagency
  management of information resources. However, progress on these
  initiatives has been slow. In our report, due to be issued in
  September 2003, we further discuss the use of geospatial
  technologies in support of wildland fire management, challenges to
  effectively using these technologies, and opportunities to address
  key challenges and to improve the effective use of geospatial
  technologies. We will also make recommendations to improve the
  use of geospatial technologies in support of wildland fire
  management.


  In summary, the federal wildland fire management community is
  using a variety of different geospatial technologies for activities
  throughout the fire management life cycle—including identifying
  dangerous fuels, assessing fire risks, detecting and fighting fires,
  and restoring fire-damaged lands. These technologies run the
  gamut from satellite and aerial imaging, to the Global Positioning
  System, to geographic information systems, to specialized fire
  models.

  Local land managers and incident teams often acquire, collect, and
  develop geospatial information and technologies to meet their
  specific needs, resulting in a hodgepodge of incompatible and
  duplicative data and tools. This problem is echoed throughout the
  fire community, as those who work with different aspects of fire
  management commonly cite concerns with unavailable or
  incompatible geospatial data, duplicative systems, lack of
  equipment and infrastructure to access geospatial information,
  inconsistency in the training of geospatial specialists, and
  ineffective use of new products and technologies. These challenges
  illustrate the need for effective interagency management of


Page 27                                       GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
                  information technology and resources in the wildland fire
                  community. We will report on opportunities to improve the use of
                  these technologies in our final report.


                  This concludes my statement. I would be pleased to respond to any
                  questions that you may have at this time.

Contact and Acknowledgements
                  If you have any questions on matters discussed in this statement,
                  please contact David Powner at (202) 512-9286 or by E-mail at
                  pownerd@gao.gov, or Colleen Phillips at (202) 512-6326 or by E-
                  mail at phillipsc@gao.gov. Individuals making key contributions to
                  this statement include Barbara Collier, Neil Doherty, Joanne
                  Fiorino, Chester Joy, Richard Hung, Anjalique Lawrence, Tammi
                  Nguyen, Megan Secrest, Karl Seifert, Lisa Warnecke, and Glenda
                  Wright.




                Page 28                                    GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology


                Our objectives were to provide an overview of key geospatial
                information technologies for addressing different aspects of
                wildland fire management and to summarize key challenges to the
                effective use of geospatial technologies in wildland fire
                management. To accomplish these objectives, we focused our
                review on five key federal agencies that are responsible for
                wildland fire management on public lands: the Department of
                Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s
                National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and
                Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

                To identify key geospatial information technologies for addressing
                different aspects of wildland fire management, we assessed
                policies, plans, and reports on wildland fire management and
                technical documents on geospatial technologies. We assessed
                information on Forest Service and Interior efforts to develop and
                use geospatial technologies. We also interviewed officials with the
                Forest Service and the Interior, interagency organizations,
                commercial vendors, and selected states to determine the
                characteristics and uses of different geospatial technologies in
                supporting different phases of wildland fire management. In
                addition, we met with officials of other federal agencies, including
                the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey, the
                Department of Defense’s National Imagery and Mapping Agency,
                the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the
                Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric
                Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security’s
                Federal Emergency Management Agency, to identify their efforts to
                develop geospatial information products in support of wildland
                fire management.

                To summarize key challenges to the effective use and sharing of
                geospatial technologies, we reviewed key reports and studies on
                these challenges. These include the following:

                Burchfield, James A., Theron A. Miller, Lloyd Queen, Joe Frost,
                Dorothy Albright, and David DelSordo. Investigation of Geospatial
                Support of Incident Management. National Center for Landscape
                Fire Analysis at the University of Montana. November 25, 2002.




              Page 29                                     GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, Disaster Management
  Support Group. The Use of Earth Observing Satellites for Hazard
  Support: Assessments & Scenarios. National Oceanic and
  Atmospheric Administration, n.d.

  Department of Agriculture (Forest Service) and Department of
  Interior. Developing an Interagency, Landscape-scale Fire Planning
  Analysis and Budget Tool. n.d. [December 2001].

  Fairbanks, Frank, Elizabeth Hill, Patrick Kelly, Lyle Laverty, Keith F.
  Mulrooney, Charlie Philpot, and Charles Wise. Wildfire Suppression:
  Strategies for Containing Costs. Washington, D.C.: National
  Academy of Public Administration, September 2002.

  Fairbanks, Frank, Henry Gardner, Elizabeth Hill, Keith Mulrooney,
  Charles Philpot, Karl Weick, and Charles Wise. Managing Wildland
  Fire: Enhancing Capacity to Implement the Federal Interagency
  Policy. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Public
  Administration, December 2001.

  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wildland Fire
  Management: Some Information Needs and Opportunities. Working
  paper, National Hazards Information Strategy, July 2002.

  National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Information Resource
  Management Strategy Project: Wildland Fire Business Model.
  National Interagency Fire Center. August 1996.

  National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Information Resource
  Management Working Team, Geospatial Task Group. Geospatial
  Technology for Incident Support: A White Paper. April 12, 2002.

  We also interviewed federal officials from interagency wildland fire
  groups including the national fire directors, the National Wildfire
  Coordinating Group’s (NWCG) Information Resource Management
  (IRM) working team, NWCG’s IRM program management office, the
  IRM working team’s geospatial task group, and the Wildland Fire
  Leadership Council to discuss challenges and ongoing efforts to
  address these challenges. In addition, we reviewed post-fire reports
  on the Hayman, Biscuit, and Cerro Grande fires to identify how
  geospatial technologies were used on these fires and to evaluate
  any challenges the incident teams may have encountered in using
  these technologies. We attended federal and commercial
  conferences on geospatial information technologies, interviewed
  representatives from selected states and commercial vendors, and




Page 30                                       GAO-03-1114T Wildland Fires
  observed group discussions on challenges in effectively using these
  technologies and plans for addressing them.

  We conducted our review at the federal agencies’ headquarters in
  Washington D.C., the Forest Service’s Remote Sensing Applications
  Center and Geospatial Service and Technology Center in Salt Lake
  City, Utah; the U.S. Geological Survey’s Rocky Mountain Mapping
  Center in Denver, Colorado; the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth
  Resources Observation Systems Data Center in Sioux Falls, South
  Dakota; the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho; and
  the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences
  Laboratory in Missoula, Montana.

  Forest Service and Interior officials generally agreed with the facts
  as presented in this statement and provided technical corrections,
  which we have incorporated. We conducted our work supporting
  this statement and our overall report between October 2002 and
  August 2003, in accordance with generally accepted government
  auditing standards.




  (310454)




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