GIS and Social Networks Help Fight Colorado Wild Fires

It’s hard to explain how dangerous a wildfire is until you see the vast destruction they can cause. But those who live near wooded areas in the western part of the country are all too aware of the potential peril. Should you head for safer ground? Is it too soon to pull out and possibly leave property, pets, and belongings without supervision? That’s been the situation recently in Colorado as more than a dozen large fires burn in four national forests and eight other areas.

How can you know that precisely the extent of the burning? Because a major online GIS (geographic information system) mapping system was created by GIS software vendor Esri to help residents, firefighters, emergency response workers, officials, and others interested in the situation on the ground. It shows how GIS experts can have a major impact on their communities. The map system scrolls in or out to cover the area the user wants to see. Pull back and you notice that not only are there the well-publicized problems in Colorado, but large fires in California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho.

There are social network hotspots. Click and you can see relevant data pulled in, including a list of items needed in a particular area. [insert Esri-fire-map.jpg] There are also other helpful annotations. For example, the map shows current wind patterns, color-coded to show strength. Wind is an important factor in how fires develop. The information can help predict how they might spread, which will affect firefighting efforts and the decisions that officials and residents of the potentially affected areas. Users can choose to see which layers of information appear on the map, including U.S. Geological Survey wildfire activity, topographic maps, and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration red flag warnings.

There is also a choice of base maps, over which other data is displayed. They include street, topographic, and terrain maps. In addition, users can separately display sources of images from Flickr or YouTube videos as well as messages from Twitter. All this information can be invaluable when you’re trying to save someone else’s life … or your own. And it is all made possible through the power of knowing how to apply GIS to problems in society, non-profits, or business.

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