As fires continue to rage in Southern California, emergency responders and local residents alike are supported by rapidly-deployed IT systems.
Government Computer News reports on the important role IT infrastructure plays in helping fire-fighting and communications:
1. Website bandwith
The state’s computerized reaction to public demand for information about the disaster swamped the Fire Incident Web site of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
Cal Fire’s chief information officer, Ron Ralph, said in a telephone interview that the increase in traffic to the agency’s Web site had overwhelmed the bandwidth allocated for it. The department posted a notice that “due to extremely high traffic volume, the Cal Fire Incident Web site is not functioning. This temporary page contains the latest information available.”
We were bursting up to 12 to 14 megabits of traffic,” Ralph added.
Ralph contacted AT&T to seek additional bandwidth for Cal Fire’s site. “AT&T doubled our bandwidth within 12 hours,” he said. “I thought that was pretty impressive.”
2. Satellite communications
San Diego-based Tachyon helped the fire control teams by lending two portable satellite ground stations for temporary use at fire command centers, Ralph said. Cal Fire’s CIO office also is working with AT&T to arrange for loaned satellite uplink and downlink gear.
3. Software infrastructure
Ralph said his operation relies on an Oracle database management system on the back end and Citrix for application delivery. The system connects with some 4,500 users via a client server network that uses a virtual private network.
Cal Fire’s resources include a suite of applications referred to as the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, which processes 9-1-1 calls and shunts them to the appropriate agency staff members. “The CAD system is fully redundant and fielded at 22 locations around the state,” Ralph said.
When fire incidents grow into large problems, Cal Fire switches to its Resource Ordering System (ROS) link.
ROS is a nationwide federal system with hardware based in Kansas City, Mo. Cal Fire uses redundant communications paths to connect with ROS, which in turn is fully interoperable with the CAD suite, Ralph said.
During large fires, Cal Fire relies on ROS to keep track of the various assets, such as bulldozers, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, deployed to fight the conflagrations.
IT personnel at the on-site centers rely on an application called Inicinet to keep track of various functions, activities, resource needs and other relevant data, Ralph said. The Incinet application communicates with Cal Fire via satellite uplinks or other means, Ralph said.
4. Satellite imagery
FEMA’s lengthy description of the many federal activities it is coordinating in the fire response omitted mention of ongoing work by NASA to provide imagery to fire fighting agencies.
A NASA official said in a telephone interview that her agency also is providing near-real time video footage to firefighting agencies. She added that NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base is evaluating the possibility of fielding an unmanned aerial vehicle to gather aerial photos of the region.
To see additional NASA fire images, click here.
InformationWeek reports on how San Diego residents are using Enterprise 2.0 tools, such as Google and Twitter, to maintain communications during the fire emergency.
For much more information about Twitter's role in the crisis, see this post on the ZDNet government and IT blog.