Wildfire system rolling out

An interagency wildfire management organization has begun deploying two of three major components in a software application designed to manage firefighting resources.

The application will automate the ordering of firefighting resources, such as crews and airplanes, and provide decision-makers with real-time information on the status of those resources.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group is rolling out the administrative and status reporting pieces of its Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS), and a third resource ordering capability will start being deployed around December, said Jon Skeels, ROSS project team leader for NWCG.

The group is composed of several federal agencies, including the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as many state forestry agencies, It oversees wildfire management via more than 400 dispatch and coordination offices across the country.

ROSS, conceived in 1997, will be deployed to each of those offices to enable dispatch officials to see what firefighting personnel and equipment are available and order them electronically, instead of through phone calls, as is done now.

The administrative function of ROSS includes basic information on a dispatch office's organization and resources, and the status function lets dispatch officials tell others what resources an office has are available, Skeels said.

"By automating this, we are able to see [available resources] immediately, and as things change, the status is automatically updated," Skeels said. "Just knowing where resources are is a very important piece of information."

Currently, such information is sent daily to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, but by the time it's compiled, "it's old news," Skeels said.

In addition, having dispatchers make phone calls to find out what resources are available and order them is time-consuming and often redundant, he said. One order NWCG tracked made stops at 22 offices, he said. "Now we're going to have consistent, good documentation because everyone's going to be looking at the same system," he said.

Incorporating 6,000 users at 56 agencies at all levels of government requires ROSS to be able to handle those agencies' unique business rules, Skeels said.

Versata Inc.'s Versata Logic Server, one of several commercial components of ROSS, automates and captures those various rules for resource status reporting and ordering, said Manish Chandra, Versata vice president for worldwide marketing.

"[The server] is able to manage different logistics as your business rules are changing [which is important] in any kind of system where you have dynamic characteristics," he said.

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