Center pitches for new system to track firefighting resources

An interagency group will present this week the first part of a plan for a computer system that will better track and allocate the resources needed to fight the nation's wildfires.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) a network of more than 200 firefighting centers that coordinates the fighting of the wildfires that spring up on federal lands every year will present an outline of its needs and a general analysis of a firefighting resource tracking system to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group an oversight body.

NIFC is made up of representatives from land-management agencies such as the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management National Park Service Bureau of Indian Affairs and Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Agriculture Department's U.S. Forest Service.

The system called the Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS) will improve the communication among individual centers that must share firefighters and equipment to fight fires according to NIFC officials. When one of the firefighting centers runs short on manpower or equipment the organization's dispatchers and coordinators now rely on faxes telephones and electronic mail to locate which centers can offer firefighting teams helicopters airplanes vehicles or other equipment - even kitchens and showers - to help fight a fire.

An automated system will allow one center to quickly query the status of another center's resources and order equipment and firefighters if available. Firefighting officials will not have to wait for responses to e-mail phone calls or faxes.

John Gebhard technology adviser for the director of the Office of Fire and Automation at the Bureau of Land Management said he could offer no estimate on how much ROSS might cost.

The system will make what is seen as an already efficient organization even more adept said John Freemuth a Boise State University professor of political science who specializes in land policy and management. "They're known for being kind of cutting-edge in the federal government...to marshal resources where they're needed " Freemuth said. "I think that their secret is they've really broken down agency boundaries."

If the coordinating group approves the system NIFC must then compare the requirements for ROSS with the capabilities of the solutions that information technology vendors have offered so that the organization can determine what it will need to make the system work.

Such an analysis will then let NIFC determine whether a system can be acquired off-the-shelf or whether a government-specific solution will be required.

In recent months NIFC has collected catalogs brochures and other product information from IT vendors who plan to offer possible solutions. So far about a half dozen potential solutions have been offered.

"At first glance a couple of the offers look as if they could potentially do the job " Gebhard said. He declined to identify the vendors who had submitted information.

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