Figure 2: WFDSS Fire Spread Probability Simulation (FsPro) map for the Waldo Canyon Fire (Colorado, 2012).
Because of the development of disparate documentation and analysis processes applicable only to specific fire types and situations, a new method for wildfire decision documentation and analysis became highly desirable for the wildland fire management program. As a result, a new system, the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS), was developed and put into use in 2009.
WFDSS is a single system that replaces all previous processes. It is a web-based system for documenting decisions, supporting analyses and providing information useful in completing operational plans applicable to and used for all wildland fires. It promotes access to numerous information analysis tools in the areas of fire behavior modeling, fire weather information, economic principles, air quality and smoke management, and information technology to support effective wildland fire decisions consistent with land and resource management plans and fire management plans.
WFDSS greatly reduces text input requirements by using spatially oriented and graphically displayed information. The system incorporates a progressive decision documentation and analysis process that can be scaled and adapted to match situational changes.
The design of WFDSS improves existing documentation capabilities; provides rapid and efficient information acquisition; allows for information analysis; and makes the decision process accessible, consistent, flexible and geospatial. Maps and other spatial information of values, assets and the fire environment that help with risk assessment and support are available.
When a wildland fire starts, a progressive process of assessment, risk-characterization, analysis and deliberation begins to lead to a risk-informed decision. Maps of forest, brush and grass fuel types with other geospatial data such as values at risk (infrastructure and natural resources) are viewable and can be displayed with fire behavior and smoke modeling tools to visually project risk (Figure 2). When pre-planned actions are not successful or the situation significantly changes, additional or new decisions are needed. Managers can fully document their decisions, including rationale for those decisions, with all supporting analysis information as they proceed through the system.
WFDSS also can facilitate long-term implementation action planning. Managers can develop implementation actions that include short- or long-term tactical response information. Long-term actions can be designed around a planning area that represents the desired management area for the fire and creates a reference for all analysis, planning and implementation activities. Management action points that identify where defined actions will be taken in response to changes in temporal or spatial conditions, or other situational changes, can be spatially developed and displayed. Contingency actions for implementation during unplanned situations can also be developed and spatially represented.
Since 2007, nearly 50,000 wildland fires have been recorded in WFDSS by all federal wildland fire management agencies and several states, tribes and Alaska native corporations.
Tom Zimmerman, Ph.D., is Retired Program Manager, U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Management RD&A, Boise, Idaho. Zimmerman worked for 33 years in all areas of wildland fire management.