Firefighters on the 2019 Vader Fire connect with essential mobile applications through a FirstNet broadband connection.
BY ERIN MCDUFF
Technology is now interwoven into nearly every facet of forest and rangeland management, including wildland fire mitigation and response. From satellites to mobile devices and applications designed for wildfire personnel, technology is improving the strategic planning of wildfire mitigation efforts, enabling a more effective response to wildfires, improving firefighter safety, and providing real-time information for the public.
At the Interior Department, we are equipping wildland fire personnel with handheld and mobile devices and bringing networks into the remote areas where they operate. In collaboration with FirstNet and other service providers, we are expanding high-speed broadband for use in wildland fire operations in remote locations that currently lack access. We are piloting satellite-based connectivity on wildfire incidents through Starlink. We are also using edge computing to maintain connectivity in areas with low bandwidth by essentially creating a data center at the incident. These efforts ensure more fire response personnel operating in remote locations have access to essential, real-time data and modeling to inform their decisions.
Expanding connectivity also enables personnel on the ground to provide data on wildfires to the public in near real time, improving public safety. Historically, maps of fire activity were compiled daily from field reports, and public information often lagged behind the situation on the ground by as much as 48 hours. Fire updates have now become available to the public within minutes of their collection. InciWeb provides a great example of this in action.
Advances in technology are also improving firefighter safety. For example, the implementation of remote tracking systems is enabling wildland fire managers and dispatchers to view the locations of vehicles and personnel in real time, improving situational awareness and rapid decision-making.
As we continue to experience more frequent, extreme wildfires across the country, these efforts will advance the Interior Department’s work to detect wildfires early, improve firefighter safety, and expand capacity to respond to wildfires at a local level.
Erin McDuff is a public affairs specialist with Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire.