Along with the public viewer, the portal also has a professional viewer available to planners for the state, Fire Protection Districts, and local government. This customized portal allows users to create maps and detailed risk summary reports that include risk statistics for defined project areas and maps, charts, tables, and photos that describe those areas.
All of these factors play into the emphasis on fire prevention in the state through community outreach, Cooke says. “We’re really focused on a significant effort to campaign to educate our population about the impacts of wildfire and what individuals can do to play their part and reduce the impact.”
Exploring Technology Options
Colorado is exploring technological options to detect wildfires earlier and provide accurate information to responders quickly. “Anywhere in the western states, you have a wildfire…you get a report of smoke and you spend a lot of time chasing smoke,” Cooke explains. “What we want to do is use technology so we can identify where that smoke’s coming from, what kind of fire you have, what’s the best way to get into it, and what resources you’re going to need to contain it so that you can make good decisions right from the get-go.”
One option on the table is using manned aircraft to fly over an area after a band of lightning has gone through to look for heat signals using infrared scanners. Traditionally, pilots have been sent out to look for signs of smoke, but with today’s technology they can look for signs of heat that could cause a wildfire and can quickly provide fire source information to the fire department for suppression.
Colorado had initially looked at using unmanned aircraft, or drones, but Cooke says there are still too many obstacles to that approach. “The FAA is still just researching how states and local governments can use them,” he explains, adding that he believes the United States is still a few years away from using that technology stateside.
Another possibility is a software solution that would allow Colorado to download information to the incident commanders on the ground so they can have real-time information about what the fire is doing, where the fuel is, and the rate of the fire’s spread. This would be done through GIS software, which has been adopted by fire departments and federal agencies for various purposes.
Stephen McElroy, head of the GIS program at American Sentinel University in Aurora, Colorado, describes GIS as a system that integrates multiple data sets, from hardware, software, and mapping information, to capture and analyze forms of geographically referenced information. He says that the most appealing aspect of GIS for emergency response is increased situational awareness.