Using Data To Fight Wildfires: An Inside Look - InformationWeek

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9/3/2015
07:06 AM
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Using Data To Fight Wildfires: An Inside Look

Data gathering and analysis are now part of an array of tools used to fight wildfires in the US. Here's what it all looks like.
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(Image: Smokeybear.com)

This has been a record-setting year for the area on the ground lost to wildfires in the United States. Nearly 8 million acres (3,237,485.12 hectares) have burned in seven states. To battle forest fires, more than 20,000 firefighters have worked with an array of tools, from driptorches and pulaskis to bulldozers and aerial tankers.

Within that array of tools, data gathering and analysis play increasingly important roles.

For firefighters, the information that comes from data analysis is critical for a number of reasons. Real-time data alerts firefighters to ignitions at an earlier, more easily winnable stage. The information gives them insight into what a fire is doing underneath a thick layer of smoke. Analysis of the terrain into which a fire is moving offers guidance about what the fire is likely to do next. Modeling software that uses a variety of data sources gives firefighters critical, and potentially life-saving, knowledge about how a certain type of forest fire is likely to behave so that equipment and personnel can be properly positioned to combat the blaze.

If your last thought about wildfires was the last time you saw Smokey Bear on a sign, it's time you updated your information. Our image gallery will help you do just that, and remind you of the firefighters who have lost their lives this year, and every year, battling our nation's wildfires.

Has wildfire had an impact on your life or business this year? Are you involved in fighting wildfires or responding to natural disasters? Let us know your thoughts about the latest trends in data analysis -- and please, stay safe out there.

[Data modeling tools and fire simulators guide firefighters on the frontlines. Read Data, Analytics Help Fight Forest Fires.]

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Analyst at Omdia, focusing on enterprise security management. Curtis has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He has been on staff and contributed to technology-industry publications ... View Full Bio

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Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2015 | 1:18:43 AM
Re: Drones and wildfires
Curt, in fact, I just thought about the proximity with the Palace after Ashish's mention of the paparazzis, which I don't believe have anything to do with the drone restriction in Regent's Park. I agree more with your idea. If everyone is going to fly their drones in places like a public park it could cause problems to the ones trying to have a quiet picnic in a green urban area. Maybe things will change when there are some more regulations, or flying drones becomes a responsible activity. Until then, I will try to find out the reason/s behind the restriction, so we can actually have a discussion based on facts. I will let you know what my Sherlock Holms self found out. :) By the way, Sherlock's hone on Baker Street is just two blocks from there. :D -Susan
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2015 | 10:33:33 AM
Re: Drones and wildfires
@Ashish, I think that a big part of the reason that more homeowners don't create fire-breaks is aesthetics. If you plow up a workable fire-break and remove all the fuel from around the house, you're left with a wide swath of dirt. If you have time and access to a bulldozer you can do that when fire threatens, but most homeowners (and homeowner associations) don't want to look at a fire break all the time.

Interestingly enough, I think that some of the landscaping options that are becoming common because of the drought in California will turn out to be more fire-resistant than the earlier all-green landscaping.

This is one of the things we face in Florida every few years when we have an active fire season. People say they love the "natural look" -- just not in their own neighborhood, which they want to look like the 14th hole at Augusta National Golf Course.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2015 | 10:28:04 AM
Re: Drones and wildfires
@Susan, proximity to the Palace is certainly an issue, but I was really talking about any activity that requires open space in the middle of one of the world's larger cities. Whether we're talking about flying a quad-copter or letting your dog run off a leash, any activity that requires a large, relatively un-regulated area is going to be challenging in an urban setting.

Or maybe not. I'll admit that I don't live in a large urban area, so this might be one of the incorrect presumtions that exist among those of us who live "out in the sticks."
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2015 | 10:24:35 AM
Re: The HotShots still work hard to earn their grub
@Ashu001, the military drones could provide some instrumentation, though I'm not aware of one that would make a great air-tanker. That could certainly change.

And I think a big reason why we don't see more active-duty military deployed in fire fighting has a great deal to do with our constitutional (and long-term legal) constraints on our military being active on U.S. soil. With the exception of the Corp of Engineers, it's complicated to involve the military in civilian matters.

And I'm not sure how California politics works with the whole picture. Many of the firefighters are employees of (or contracted with) the Forest Service. I'm frankly amazed at how well the Forest Service, National Park Service, and other federal agencies work together on fire issues: A lot of the jurisdictional issues I see in other activities don't seem to be big actors in this, and that's a very good thing.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2015 | 10:18:36 AM
Re: Drones and wildfires
@Brian, I've seen a number of courses crop up to teach drone operation. I took an intensive one-day course in the desert outside Las Vegas before I got my first quad-copter and I spend a fair amount of my time at the controls practicing maneuvers. I want to be a safe operator because I think that's the way to enjoy multi-rotor copters for the long term. And I have to admit, I do like the video and still images I get from my quad!
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/7/2015 | 11:41:01 AM
Re: Drones and wildfires
Ashish, thanks. :) What part of the world is really, really a free world? -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/7/2015 | 11:34:12 AM
Re: Drones and wildfires
Ashish, I am not. But I simply don't believe the restriction in Regent's Park is due to paparazzi activity. I am repeating myself here. :/ I can tell you one thing, Monaco is more attractive for paparazzi activity than London is. -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/7/2015 | 11:22:16 AM
Re: Drones and wildfires
Ashish, in a couple of weeks' time, when I'm back in London, I'll find out the reason for the drone restriction in Regent's Park. Because, I don't think it has to do with any paparazzi activity. :/ Unless, you know that is a fact. The UK is part of the free world. :) -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/6/2015 | 1:12:27 PM
Re: Drones and wildfires
Curt, in the case of Hyde Park I would understand it for its proximity to Buckingham Palace. -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/6/2015 | 1:09:14 PM
Re: Drones and wildfires
Ashish, now I see Curt mentioned Hyde Park in his comment to me. But I was talking about Regent's Park before (see previous comments), not Hyde Park. Most likely Curt mentioned Hyde Park for its proximity to Buckingham Palace. I don't believe any footballer, wealthy Russians, or Arabs will have more protection that the Queen herself. -Susan
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