Montana keeps fires on site

The fire season last year in the West was one of the worst on record, and this year is expected to be no better. But in Montana, at least, citizens will have a quick way of checking on the danger with the opening of the state's 2001 Wildland Fire Information Web site.

The site (www.opi.state.mt.us/wildlandfire) pulls together information from various government Web sites to provide users with a "one-stop shop" of relevant and accurate information, according to Monique Lay, public information officer for Montana's Department of Emergency Services (DES).

DES is responsible for the upkeep of the fire information site, along with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), and with input from the Office of Public Instruction.

"When fires are happening it's apparent that people need information," Lay said. "Most of that information has been available elsewhere, but the problem has been the kind of hoops people had to go through to find it."

Rather than create content for the Web site, the three agencies focus on searching out those sites that provide the best information, and then work to make sure the information is kept current. Links from the page to those other agency Web sites direct users to the places with the best information. They also continually research the Web to see if other sites also can contribute.

An analysis of how many people visit the site, and what they click on to see, will show what sites and what kind of information are the most popular, Lay said. The DES and DNRC will then use that knowledge to help contributing agencies better shape the information on their Web sites.

In the future, perhaps as early as the end of this year, Lay hopes the Web site will also contain data on other hazards, such as floods and earthquakes.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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