GAO sees fire management flaws

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Fire management agencies must do a better a job using geospatial information technology to manage wildland fires, according to a report published on Friday.

The General Accounting Office released a preliminary report that identified a "hodgepodge of incompatible and duplicative data and tools" due to the wide variety of geospatial technologies and applications being used throughout federal, state and local offices.

During its study from October 2002 to August 2003, GAO's review focused on the five federal agencies responsible for managing wildfires including the Agriculture Department's Forest Service and the Interior Department's National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

While the final report is due later this month, the interim issue focused on key challenges such as the availability of compatible data, the duplicative nature of information systems, a lack of consistent infrastructure among agencies and field offices, inconsistency in training of geospatial specialists and ineffective use of new products and technologies.

The report noted the slow progress towards technological initiatives being made by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, which contains representatives from the five management agencies and from other federal, state and tribal organizations.

Along with better overall management, GAO also identified the need for a nationally-recognized set of geospatial data standards for use on fires and a single comprehensive inventory of information systems and applications that would facilitate information sharing and avoid duplicating efforts.

Among the vast number of geospatial technologies that must be better managed are remote sensing systems, the Global Positioning System satellites, geographic information systems and specialized software that models fire behavior.

In its final report, GAO will discuss opportunities to address key challenges and improve the effective use of geospatial technologies in support of wildland fire management.

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