FIRIS: Fire Integrated Real time Intelligence System provides real-time fire incident intelligence

By Joel A. Lane
Orange County Fire Authority / Air Attack Group Supervisor

The three most unanswered questions in wildland fire fighting emerged shortly after the “Big Burn” of 1910. Where is the fire, how big is the fire, and where is the fire going? These three questions continue to be echoed today with incident commanders, fire chiefs, 911 dispatchers and most importantly, fire fighters on the ground.  

FIRIS is comprised of WIFIRE PhDs’ and professors from the University of California San Diego, chief officers and fire behavior modeling specialists from the Los Angeles City Fire Department Fusion Center, real-time mapping and product sharing from INTTERRA, and Team AEVEX Aerospace with full-spectrum airborne intelligence solutions. FIRIS is managed by program managers that are retired U.S. Forest Service Chief Officers, including a current Type I Incident Management Team Incident Commander, while utilizing 7 fully qualified and current Air Attack Group Supervisors combining over 275 years of wildland fire fighting including aerial firefighting supervision experience. 

FIRIS is staffed at two locations, Intel 12, providing 7 days a week 12-hour coverage in Sacramento California, and Intel 24, providing 7 days a week 24-hour coverage in Los Alamitos California. Both fixed wing aircraft (Beechcraft King Air 200s) are staffed with a qualified and current Air Attack Group Supervisor, a Team AEVEX sensor operator and a Dynamic Aviation pilot. Both aircraft are ordered and dispatched through Orange County Fire Authority. FIRIS is administered through the California Office of Emergency Services (CAL-OES) and provides immediate response with information dissemination to the State Operations Center as well as multiple Statewide Command Centers.

Complex as this may seem, the objective and missions are simple: To provide real time intelligence to decision makers and firefighters on the ground, now. Real time is measured not in hours or minutes, but in seconds. This process begins well before the aircraft leaves the ground. Behind the scenes staff use a variety of products to quickly gain a site picture for providing products as the flight crew are starting engines. Once airborne, the flight crew begins using two different camera systems, a FLIR 380-HDC high definition forward looking infra-red gimbal with laser illuminator, and a TK-9 Overwatch multi-step sensor system. Sensor operators from Team AEVEX with real-time ISR experience, transmit downloaded information using an onboard satellite system. This quickly produces fire perimeter maps, ETA fire behavior maps, direct protection maps, and a satellite image of the incident, while simultaneously providing live streaming through Team AEVEX GeoFOCIS data system. 

As these products are being transmitted real time to ground firefighters on cell phones, additional in-depth information can be accessed and viewed on computers for use in strategic long range planning by agency administrators and fire chiefs. The greatest strength is in real time intelligence to ground firefighters and incident commanders.  As OCFAs Fire Chief Brian Fennessy noted, “firefighters do not carry I-Pads or laptop computers on the fire line, and IC’s only have seconds to look at information being received, it must be simple, and fast.” 

Simplicity and speed are where FIRIS stands out. The simplicity is often compared to an illustration from Dr. Seuss, one picture telling a story without any words. This can be duplicated and updated in seconds through WIFIRE and the LAFD Fusion Center on multiple incidents from multiple aircraft. It is fast, and uses simple apps such as WhatsApp, or receiving a picture to a cell phone in seconds as well as live streaming to an I-phone or Android device. This information is open source, free, and transparent throughout federal, state, and local government fire departments. FIRIS is fully funded, therefore there is nothing to buy. 

Using the latest available science, FIRIS is currently developing additional prediction models for all risk incidents. These include, but are not limited to mud slides, flooding, earthquakes, avalanches, US&R, and missing persons anywhere throughout the state of California. FIRIS is willing to collaborate with all agencies for providing products, learn new ideas, improve Incident Awareness and Assessment (IAA) objectives, and provide the best service and products to the citizens of California. FIRIS is dedicated to answering these simple questions, where is the fire or incident, how big or complex is the incident, and where is the incident going, while achieving this within seconds. Additionally, other tactical and strategic questions regarding evacuation planning, jurisdictional boundary considerations, mutual aid and resource sharing, along with providing a common operating picture for firefighter to fire chief, and local Communication/Command Center to State Operations Center is the FIRIS goal.