Gaining Ground on Wildfire

A new system is helping find and coordinate critical resources needed to combat wildfires.

by / October 1, 2001
In summers past, wildfires have raged out of control while manual methods used to order personnel and equipment slowed firefighting efforts. Often, data used to coordinate resources was out of date before it was transmitted.

In response, the National Wildfire Coordination Group (NWCG) and Lockheed Martin are developing a coordinated and automated system to help federal, state and local firefighter organizations locate and call up resources to combat major wildfires. The system is called the Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS).

NWCG combines the resources of five federal agencies and one national nonprofit organization to coordinate wildfire management programs. Over the last few years, NWCG has laid significant groundwork to enhance cooperation between agencies. Contracts for federal air tankers and helicopters have been standardized, and radio frequencies are now shared at the local level.

However, agencies are still not as efficient as they could be. In general, status information on a fire is gathered and documented locally. By the time it is manually transmitted to geographic coordination centers and then to the National Interagency Coordinating Center, it is old news. Resource orders are documented using manual forms at each office and then forwarded via phone, fax or e-mail. They are then re-entered on a form at the receiving dispatch office. This process continues until the order is filled.

Using ROSS, NWCG is working to automate the documentation associated with mobilization and demobilization of resources such as crews, aircraft, equipment and supplies; obtain realtime status of resources throughout the nation; enable dispatch offices to electronically exchange and track information for ordering resources; provide a single user interface; and provide information to prioritize pending resource orders.

"Our primary goal was to automate a process that was done manually," said Jon Skeels, ROSS project team leader. "We needed greater efficiency, a system that provided realtime status of resources and a Web-based program for ordering them. With life and property at stake, it was necessary to make the investment of money and time to enact the program."

Working Together
When implemented, ROSS will automate all business functions related to resource ordering and status process. An interagency team under the leadership of Skeels is carrying out the implementation strategy. The leader is responsible for the overall coordination of project efforts and implementation. The ROSS team is segmented into infrastructure, business, contracting and implementation teams.

"We initiated an integrated product team approach where all benefited from a superb working relationship," said Paul Condit, ROSS project manager. "Jon [Skeels] runs a virtual program office. The cooperation and level of understanding is outstanding."

Eventually, ROSS will be installed in 400 offices and accessed by 6,000 users. Full implementation is expected to occur in late 2002. Already, more than 200 dispatch center managers have been trained to use ROSS. The total cost of the program in its 10-year estimated lifecycle is $32 million. Savings due to increased efficiency is conservatively estimated at $15.7 million per year.

For more information about ROSS, visit the projects Web site.
Gail Robson Special to Government Technology