This monthly series of member spotlights features you and your peers here in Esri Community — the people playing a role in finding solutions, sharing ideas, and collaborating to solve problems with GIS. We’re doing this to recognize amazing user contributions, to example how Esri Community’s purpose is being brought to life, and to bring depth to this group of incredible people who may never meet in person, but who benefit from each other’s generous expertise.
“Do you know what keeps me up at night?”
Fully outfitted in wildfire fighting gear and framed by a panorama of screens showing flame-decimated wilderness, Sean Triplett cast his question out to a shadowed crowd of thousands at the 2023 Esri Federal GIS conference. Sean is the Fire & Aviation Management Tools & Technology Lead for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Forest Service.
L-toR: Sean Triplett, Katie Hansen, and Skip Edel on the FedGIS 2023 Plenary Stage
“Do I have the information I need to mitigate risk to myself and my firefighters? Do I have situational awareness on where the fire is and how the terrain, weather, and fuels are going to drive that fire?”
It goes without saying that Sean has reason to be concerned, and that the need for reliable, rapidly accessible data is a critical requirement in the work to address catastrophic fires across the country.
Sean, along with his Tools & Technology team members, are tasked with evaluating resources that can give wildfire professionals an edge against catastrophic fires even as atypical weather, drought, and other impacts of climate change increase the threat they pose. That's why the Forest Service, along with federal and state agencies connected through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), and a host of others working on wildland fire use ArcGIS products to rapidly collect, modify, and distribute information needed across teams handling many aspects of wildfire response and prevention.
Beside him on the plenary stage were Katie Hansen and Skip Edel, two of just four people who run The NIFC Org and who administer ArcGIS data and tools for 23,000 users across the U.S. Katie is NIFC ArcGIS Online Administrator for the National Park Service and Skip is the Fire GIS Program Lead for the National Park Service. With Sean, they introduced the vital work NIFC and ArcGIS do in coordinating the fire community.
NIFC is one of many organizations or interest groups who have set up their own dedicated place in Esri Community—what’s called a User Group. The NIFC User Group hosts nearly 1,500 member accounts and is currently the largest of its kind in the Esri Community platform.
Following their plenary presentation, Katie, Skip, and Sean met with the Esri Community team on the FedGIS expo floor to talk more about their work and how they’ve benefitted from using Esri Community.
" Any one agency does not have enough resources to respond to all the fires,
so we coordinate together. We all work together. "
When asked to describe NIFC, Skip answered, “It’s a place. A physical location in Boise, Idaho where the coordination happens with the various member agencies.” These include the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to name just a few. Each of the eight participating agencies have an office at the location which facilitates close cooperation. Between them, they manage wildland fires for nearly 700 million acres of federal public land. And when it comes to The NIFC Org, the online component of NIFC, anyone involved in wildland fire can participate and make use of the ArcGIS Online benefits it extends.
Skip elaborated on NIFC’s purpose. “[NIFC recognizes] that fire doesn’t stop at agency boundaries. Between Forest Service and BLM and Park Service, fire is just going to cross those boundaries. So there needs to be some coordination on the response for the fires as they cross all these various boundaries. … Any one agency does not have enough resources to respond to all the fires, so we coordinate together. We all work together.”
Katie underlined the need by voicing a growing challenge the fire community faces, “The fire seasons are getting longer, so our support is just getting more and more intense and more involved.” She pointed to the Marshal Fire that raged through densely populated Colorado neighborhoods in December 2021 as one example of the eroding predictability of fire season. “We don’t let our guard down like we did previously on the shoulder seasons or over the winter, knowing that we could have a catastrophic wildfire any day of the year now.”
No more than a handful of years ago, paper was the predominant method for distributing crucial location data among teams managing wildfires. Information worked on a 24-hour planning cycle with GIS Specialists spending significant amounts of their time printing maps for crews in the field to obtain during 6am briefings. When those crews returned from the field with new data 16 hours later, the GIS Specialists would rush to make updates and print fresh maps in time for the next early morning briefing.
" We use Esri Community quite a bit. ... It's a place for our users to go
and communicate with each other, crowdsource information,
ask questions of their peers, ask questions of us ... "
Skip recalled, “It was a lot of work and a lot of scrambling at the last minute, trying to get that data processed and everything printed out in time. Moving to ArcGIS Online, that’s really cut down on a lot of that because users can update their data throughout the day.” All the necessary data goes into a single common database, updated in real time and almost instantly available to those who need it.
With the adoption of mobile devices running ArcGIS apps like Field Maps and Survey123, the use of ArcGIS resources that NIFC administers has soared. Users can not only see data, but they contribute to it as well while working together to enable a more informed, more rapid, and safer fire response.
The nearly 1.5k member Wildfire Response GIS User Group in Esri Community is managed by Katie, Skip, and a few others. The group is private to maintain relevance between content and membership.
Alongside ArcGIS, there’s another Esri offering Katie and Skip attribute with making a real difference in their work.
“We use Esri Community quite a bit,” Katie shared. “… It’s a place for our users to go and communicate with each other, crowdsource information, ask questions of their peers, ask questions of us,” Katie pointed to herself, “The administrators.”
In fact, Esri Community has proven to be the only truly viable option for users in the NIFC network.
Federal employees are likely to be familiar with the rules and regulations that carefully govern work communications. That, coupled with hurdles inherent to email communication—key feature limitations, dead addresses created when users switch agencies, and even friction generated by the all-too-common exhaustion of overfull inboxes—have meant that the NIFC team needs a more effective tool to keep their user community both connected and informed, and it must meet the stringent seal of government approval. That’s a bit of a tall order. Luckily, Esri Community fits the bill and in 2019 they opened the doors of their Wildfire Response GIS User Group to other members of the NIFC organization.
" We've moved to [Esri Community] because of its capabilities ...
It's very beneficial. "
Whether it’s being utilized to notify members about required trainings, to host conversations where users can help each other source incident computers needed for wildfire events, or even share out the much-anticipated annual fire season information post that includes such details as what version of ArcGIS Pro all agencies will need to be on, or any of the numerous other use cases being practiced, Esri Community provides NIFC a platform where their members can give and get the information they need quickly and effectively.
“Now we have this platform to be able to engage our users and have them engage amongst their peers and their community as well. Because it really is a community of like-mind folks who have an interest in wildland fire, but also geospatial aspects.” Katie summarized.
Skip concluded the point by driving home Esri Community’s impact, “We’ve moved to [Esri Community] because of its capabilities, and we don’t really have any other option from the government side of things to do email lists and all that kind of stuff. It’s very beneficial.”
Want more? See the NIFC Team’s full FedGIS 2023 plenary recording and experience how ArcGIS is changing the landscape of wildfire management: National Interagency Fire Center Presentation
L-to-R: Katie Hansen, Sean Triplett, and Skip Edel represent some of the people directly involved with the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), a place in Boise, Idaho where eight federal and state agencies participate in a coordinated approach wildland fire management. Their work makes significant use of ArcGIS technologies as well as a private Esri Community User Group as participating agencies tend to nearly 700 million acres of federal public land.
Katie Hansen, NIFC ArcGIS Online Administrator for the National Park Service
Sean Triplett, Fire & Aviation Management Tools & Technology Lead for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Forest Service
Skip Edel, Fire GIS Program Lead for the National Park Service
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