Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lanny Lin Talks About the Guiberson Fire

My name is Lanny Lin, and I am a PhD student from the Computer Science Department at Brigham Young University located at Provo, Utah.

During summer 2009, I had the great opportunity to work as an intern for the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames, and GeoCam is the project I worked on under the management of Trey. Although I am back at BYU now, I am still working on GeoCam development and researching on how GeoCam can effectively support disaster responder operations.

After the Guiberson fire started, Trey and I were invited by Tom Z to the Incident Command Post, located at the city community center of Moorpark, CA, to deploy the GeoCam system and investigate how GeoCam can support the firefighting process.

Trailers used as temporary offices by firefighters using the Moorpark community center.

The Guiberson fire is a type I fire that burned over 17,000 acres, and involved over 1,000 fire personnel. It was in an area very close to several communities and many avocado farms. The fire started on September 22, and by the time I flew in on September 25, the fire had been almost contained. However, we were still able to let the damage assessment team and the rehabilitation field observers team use GeoCam in their post-fire operations. We also introduced GeoCam to firefighters from various divisions, groups, and regions, and discussed how GeoCam might be useful in their daily operations.
Trey giving training about how to use the Android phone with the GeoCam Mobile software to the rehabilitation team.

Geo-tagged photo taken by Field Observers and uploaded to GeoCam server in real time using the Android phones we provided, showing the dozer line that prevented the fire spread.

Tom, Trey and I also drove along the fire line and documented the area of the fire. Although most of the fire had burned out, it was still very exciting to see mountains and peaks that were entirely black from the fire. We also caught several small fires that were still burning within the fire line.

Small fires still burning near the fire line.

Tom taking a picture with the Android phone using GeoCam mobile of Lanny videotaping him using the Android phone.

We interviewed members of the incident command team, field observers, and GIS specialists (in charge of providing up-to-date maps), and these users provided us great feedback about the GeoCam system. People are very happy about the ease of training. It only takes minutes for a firefighter to become efficient in using the GeoCam mobile software running on the Android phone. Fire crews are especially impressed by GeoCam's real-time (within cell coverage) photo uploading capability. Normally, information only gets updated after field observers return to the base camp, which could be many hours after they collect the information. This capability reduces the information turn around time and also reduces the workload of the field observers after they return when they are exhausted and ready to hit the shower. The GIS specialists also pointed out that the ability to have field observers categorize photos using fire icons directly on the phone can be very helpful in reducing communication errors and workload for the map makers.

I flew out of LA on September 27. At the time, the fire was 85% contained and most of the units were demobilized. It was a very exciting three-day trip for me because it was my first fire. I hope GeoCam can become a useful tool in disaster response operations such as the Guiberson fire to make the firefighters job easier. These great, hard-working people put their lives on the line to protect residents and their properties. They deserve the best!

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