GIS Helps Multiple Agencies Respond to Southern California Fires

Some of the emergency applications include 2D and 3D mapping of fire perimeters and fire progression, identifying critical facilities and infrastructure.


Redlands, California -- Geographic information system (GIS) software and services from ESRI are helping local, state, and federal agencies with multiple tasks surrounding the recent firestorms in Southern California. Similar to previous efforts for the Zaca fire as well as the large-scale California fires of 2003, ESRI is providing staffing, ArcGIS software, and other resources. More than a dozen wildfires in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties have resulted in half a million evacuees, hundreds of thousands of acres burned, and thousands of properties destroyed.

"Since the very first fire began, firefighters, emergency services, law enforcement, health professionals, and numerous others have worked diligently around the clock to respond to the fires and to help those in need," says Russ Johnson, public safety solutions manager, ESRI. "Federal, state, and local government agencies have effectively worked in a coordinated, optimized fashion, and GIS professionals have played a key role. We at ESRI are trying to assist these professionals and the responding agencies in any way we can by supplying staff, expertise, GIS technology, and other resources."

GIS is being used at each incident command post as well as multiple command centers including Southern California operations centers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) joint operations center. GIS provides an integrated common operational picture for comprehensive, map-based situational awareness. Agency personnel take advantage of the analysis and visualization capabilities for collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies; prioritization and utilization of manpower and resources; and monitoring events on the ground in near real time. ESRI GIS specialists have been on-site at incident command centers and operations centers performing a number of different tasks.

Some of the emergency applications include 2D and 3D mapping of fire perimeters and fire progression, identifying critical facilities and infrastructure, allocating resources and equipment, performing property and community damage assessments, selecting locations for placing disaster relief centers, carrying out evacuations, and developing recovery plans. Fire specialists are using GIS to analyze vegetation, slope, and other landscape features to help understand and potentially predict fire behavior in the event weather conditions worsen. Public information professionals use GIS to answer questions about fire locations, road closures, evacuations, shelter locations, and damaged or undamaged property locations. Government officials draw on Web GIS mapping services to coordinate with other agencies for both strategic and tactical decisions and to share information with constituents and the media.

Free California Fires Service Now Available

ESRI has made available a highly intuitive, free GIS application for viewing a wealth of digital fire perimeter and related map information. Users can access the application via the ArcGIS Explorer Resource Center. From ArcGIS Explorer, simply choose File, then Resource Center, and select the newly published California Fires map in the lower right.

The California Fires application displays the current perimeters and locations of southern California fires. ArcGIS Explorer automatically refreshes the service every 15 minutes to check for perimeter updates.

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