Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tom Z Talks About the Guiberson Fire

[This is a guest post by our friend Tom Zajkowski . We can't pronounce his name, so we stick with “Tom Z”.] My name is Tom Zajkowski. I am a Remote Sensing Analyst with the Remote Sensing Applications Center located in Salt Lake City. Trey asked me to deploy with GeoCam to the Guiberson Fire to serve as a liaison between his team and the CAL FIRE Incident Command Team managing the fire.

The Remote Sensing Applications Center, part of the US Forest Service, continually works with NASA to evaluate technology that can help the FS and other land management agencies fulfill their mission. We always seem to begin with fire applications as they elicit the most interest from management and the public. GeoCam certainly has fire applications, and it can also be used in other applications within the FS, like recreation planning and resource management.

Screen shot of the GeoCam Share map of the Guiberson Fire, as viewed in Google Earth.

I was impressed with the GeoCam utility. As Trey has posted previously there were some issues but that is to be expected on a first or even second deployment. As you can see from the map we were able to collect images from all over the fire. We got a lot of excellent feedback from the fire fighters that will allow us to build on this experience for our next deployment.

I was able to get one of the phones from Trey which I will use to develop a training pamphlet and a brief so that we can help firefighters learn how to use GeoCam before they get to the fire and to evaluate the utility of GeoCam in day-to-day land management applications.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Guiberson Fire Damage GigaPan

[View in Google Earth]
[View in Browser]

GigaPan is another project we work on in the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames. The Gigapan camera is a simple robotic platform for capturing very high-resolution (gigapixel and up) panoramic images from a standard digital camera.

GigaPan can be used to collect panoramas that cover a broad area of terrain at very high detail. That's great for before-and-after shots of post-disaster damage. For example, the Yosemite Extreme Panoramic Imaging Project collected panoramas covering many of the walls in Yosemite National Park. These will be used as "before" images to help estimate the volume of fallen rock after future landslides.

This panorama, taken from a hilltop near Grimes Canyon Road, was stitched together from about 500 photos that took 40 minutes to collect. It covers a broad area of vegetation burned by the Guiberson fire. We hope the information will help guide rehabilitation efforts. For example, landslides are a concern after a fire in rugged terrain like this, and firefighters can take steps to avoid them like installing hardware to guide stormwater runoff.

One technical note -- the camera skipped two frames in the upper right of the GigaPan and we filled the holes in with sky so that the panorama would stitch. As a result the tops of some distant hills have been cut off. The problem is pretty obvious when you see it. None of the other data is suspect as far as we know.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Guiberson Fire 2009/09/26

This GeoCam photo covering a broad area of fire damage will be used to help guide post-fire rehabilitation efforts (credit: Scott Quirarte / CAL FIRE).

Our console in the Situation Unit room. At top is a geotagged photo viewed as a billboard in Google Earth. At bottom is a 2D map in a browser.

Today the fire continued to wind down, but we had several repeat users from yesterday asking to use the phones again. We collected 40 more geotagged photos with 6 phones issued to field observers spread across the Fire Behavior, Damage Assessment, and Rehabilitation Groups.

Fire behavior predicts how the fire will spread based on factors like fuel and weather. Damage assessment estimates the cost of the fire, often documenting property damage with local landowners. Rehabilitation plans to minimize the after-effects of the fire and the response, things like repairing roads damaged by heavy trucks and shoring up soil to prevent landslides. All these groups use field observers and we think GeoCam can help with all of them.

Today we got some great feedback that will help us improve the system:
  • GIS Specialist Todd Tuggle advised us to deprioritize the goal of making a local GeoCam server work stand-alone on a LAN without relying on connectivity to the rest of the Internet. He says the network has become so important to their operations that they pretty much always invest the resources to make it happen (at least at "project fires" that keep growing past initial attack). If we follow his advice it will greatly simplify our software development.
  • We successfully exported Friday's photo positions as points in an ESRI shapefile that their GIS tools could read in, and the GIS guys said they expect it to be a huge time saver for them when constructing maps. They are also really excited about allowing field observers to select icons from the fire symbology.
  • An important issue we were unaware of is the approval process for new map data. Typically all new data needs to be approved by both the Sit Unit Leader and the branch or division chief for that area. In the future we'll need to provide separate views of "approved data" (for all responder personnel) and "all data" (restricted to folks involved in the approval process). This is to prevent people on the line from making decisions based on bad data.
  • Several field observers told us battery life is a problem on the phones. We may invest in booster packs that can charge our phones from the AA batteries that are found everywhere in fire camps.
We'll demobilize tomorrow. Thanks a lot to everyone at the fire for giving GeoCam a try, especially our host Buddy Bloxham, Chief Lewin, and our "fixer" Tom Zajkowski who was a huge help with everything!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Guiberson Fire 2009/09/25

This GeoCam photo shows the challenges of the Guiberson Fire: rough terrain made access difficult as the fire threatened power lines and oil rigs (credit: Chris Waters / CAL FIRE).

For the first time, GeoCam phones were used for post-fire damage assessment (credit: Chris Waters / CAL FIRE).

Today we distributed seven GeoCam phones to field observers at the Guiberson Fire and collected 55 photos. Rob Lewin, the incident commander, reviewed our interface and gave us his take on what CAL FIRE wants from new sensor technology -- the most important thing is that we produce the right kind of high-level map for them to use in planning operations.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the fire too late for our information to really impact their planning process. Barring major weather changes most of the crew here will demobilize by Sunday. As activity dies down we're still figuring out whether we'll return to Ames or try to engage in post-damage activities on this and the Station Fire for a few more days.

In the morning we watched Aerovironment test their Puma aircraft, trying to use its thermal IR camera to trace the fire line. Here we see prep for launch near the ground station.

Some other events today:
  • Many thanks to Chris Waters' crew in Fire Behavior and Nancy Parson and Geovani Stoute in Damage Assessment for testing out the phones. We'll also be talking to folks in the post-fire rehabilitation crew tomorrow.
  • Todd Tuggle and Jennifer Valdez in the GIS mapping trailer are advising us on how to export data from GeoCam Share to an ESRI shapefile format their tools can read in.
  • Tim Ball, a thermal infrared analyst and helicopter pilot out of Reno, took one of the phones up in his helicopter to evaluate. He explained how he reduces his data collection process to the very barest essentials that can produce the data product the IC wants, namely a registered map of hot spots. Hopefully GeoCam can be stripped down a lot as well after we get more experience.
  • Our host, Sit Unit Leader Buddy Bloxham, had a lot of insightful comments. He was impressed that field observers could learn to use a GeoCam phone in five minutes. He also reinforced the importance of some of our key goals -- focus on ease of use, cutting down the admin time required to set up an incident (when the crew is at its busiest), and ability to view other products like track logs in the map. IC Rob Lewin said it would really help to enable sharing of quick natural drawings on a map.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Guiberson Fire 2009/09/24

Today I drove down from San Francisco to a hotel in Newbury Park, ready to deploy GeoCam phones to the Guiberson Fire tomorrow morning.

Our friend Tom Zajkowski from the US Forest Service is acting as liaison with our host, Buddy Bloxham, the Sit Unit Leader from CAL FIRE Incident Command Team 10. Lanny Lin, who interned with GeoCam this summer, is flying in from BYU to help. We'll have 9 GeoCam phones altogether and will get as many as possible in the hands of field observers on the ground and aircraft crew.

The Guiberson Fire (Credit: fivedollarones @ Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0)

For more about the Guiberson Fire: