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GPS Assiting in Fight of California Wildfires

Aug
15
2005

Thousands of map enthusiasts are flocking to the San Diego Convention Center July 26th – 29th. But they aren’t talking paper maps: These GIS — or Geographic Information Systems — professionals are gathering for the 25th Annual ESRI International User Conference to show the latest in digital maps and mobile mapping systems. It may be rocket science, but GPS (global positioning system) and GIS are used in applications that affect you everyday; from utility company cable maintenance to controlling this season’s wildfires.

GPS is the engine that makes auto navigation possible. Boaters use GPS to avoid getting lost on open waters. Surveyors use GPS to determine exact property boundaries — information that could translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars for your property value. Businesses, city planners and federal agencies depend daily on an accurate geographic account of just about everything from manhole covers and fire hydrants to the information needed to manage natural disasters or port activities.

In this dangerous wildfire season, fire safety experts can now receive accurate, up to the minute fire perimeter mapping information using GPS/GIS data collectors from Thales, leaders in GIS and also the creators of the Hertz NeverLost car navigation system and the Magellan line of consumer GPS devices.

“It’s essential that we get up to date, accurate fire perimeter information to the fire officials. They use this information to develop their tactics and their strategy to control the fire,” says Tom Patterson, Deputy Chief, California Dessert Division of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). “The faster I can get them the information, the quicker they can determine the resources they need to save homes and lives.”

With 2 Gb of available storage on the Thales MobileMapper(TM) CE’s secure digital card, Patterson is able to load and instantly access layer upon layer of detailed information, including topographic maps, aerial photos, land ownership boundaries, dispatch zones, roads, and city limits for virtually any fire scene in the California desert from the Mexican border to Bishop, California — more than 350 miles to the northwest.

Before the MobileMapper CE came on the scene at a price the organization could afford, Patterson had to lug critical information around in huge binders and mark maps by hand. “Now all I have to do is punch in the dispatch zone, say zone 82, and the MobileMapper CE will display which resources will be responding on a first, second and third alarm,” Patterson said. “I have aerial maps available to complement area topos so I can better evaluate the terrain for the safety and escape route planning. I can also enter coordinates for the fire and bring up a GIS layer of land ownership that shows how close the fire is to BLM land.”

With the Thales MobileMapper CE, firefighters are significantly simplifying the tactical mapping process with a few taps on a rugged handheld screen. Whether on the actual fire line at ground level or from a helicopter flying above, teams can instantly transfer critical fire path coordinates and maps to a central command area.

The information collected on the MobileMapper CE is accurate within less than one meter and recorded at one pulse per second. Patterson uses the Arc Pad Software system from ESRI of Redlands, Calif. — a standard in mobile mapping and organizers of this week’s event in San Diego.

“We are certainly excited about what Thales is doing with the MobileMapper CE together with the updates we are bringing to Arc Pad, for really innovative applications in the field that make the jobs of firefighters more effective,” said Shane Clarke, Arc Pad product manager at ESRI.

“Thales is focused on bringing prices down on mobile GIS solutions and making them easier to use, so organizations can afford to deploy this technology much more widely. The more people in the field using a GIS device like MobileMapper CE, the more an organization is empowered with data that can be turned into smart decisions and even life-saving resource management,” said Stig Pedersen, Thales senior director of product marketing.

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