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IBM Helps Federal Agencies Plan Long Term Wild Fire Response

Posted by iNext - 2005-11-09

IBM has teamed up with several federal government agencies to help manage and prevent large wild fires and plan long term responses.
The project, called Fire Program Analysis, is helping the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service plan, budget and respond more efficiently and flexibly to wild fires. IBM announced the second phase of the project Monday.

Last year, one of IBM's On Demand Innovation Services teams helped five agencies coordinate and plan the initial response to fires and monitor beneficial effects of natural fires. Through the innovation services teams, IBM combines the expertise of its mathematicians, analysts, programmers and consultants to develop models that solve complex problems.

The team working on Fire Program Analysis helped university and government researchers develop a model considering the factors that determine whether a fire will be contained or will spread. Using that information, IBM applied optimization techniques to identify the most cost effective organization for various budgeting levels.

Though it is impossible to predict when and where a bolt of lightning will ignite a fire, IBM Research uses optimization techniques – taking into account factors like terrain, climate and size of previous fires - to help the five federal agencies decide which resources they'll need and at what levels. Using flexible modeling and complex algorithms, rather than simulation forecasts, IBM is also providing federal responders with information on the amount of land that can be protected or improved, depending on how much money they can spend.

"These are the exact types of challenging and complex problems that our researchers are experts at solving by combining exiting assets with groundbreaking algorithms and technologies," said Peggy Kennelly, vice president of IBM's On Demand Innovation Services.

The second phase of the project focuses on requirement analysis, prototyping and architecture development for prevention of large fires, extended response and program management.

In an interview Monday, Kennelly said that the agencies that respond to fires haven't always been able to coordinate well and operate efficiently.
This year, responders were hit particularly hard, as 8 million acres of land were scorched. The National Interagency Fire Center reported that, only once since 1960 have more acres burned.

"You've got people from five different agencies, each [with] their own budgeting and planning objectives," she said. "So, each agency has to meet their own individual goals but they also want to work together to maximize the sharing of their resources and maximize the planning so they can be as efficient and as flexible as possible. The benefit to all of us as taxpayers is that that they're more efficiently using their funds. These guys will be better prepared to respond to fires because they can build out all these scenarios and plan more creatively."

IBM has done similar On Demand work to help trucking companies maximize their travel so truckers don't have to waste gas and time returning with empty loads.

"What scientists here like to say is that they really want to work on the kinds of problems the clients have tried to solve and can't," Kennelly said. "They really like looking at problems no one else can solve."

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