Idaho State University's Geographic Information Systems program is helping the Bureau of Land Management plan recovery efforts faster in fire-ravaged areas of Idaho.
It takes NASA, the BLM and some interesting science to accomplish this, but in order to know what the GIS program is doing, we first have to know what GIS is.
We all know about GPS, but the only part of any type of GPS system, like a Tom-Tom or a phone app that's actually GPS is the little dot that tells you your location.
"All the stuff that you're seeing, the streets, the buildings, that's GIS,” said Keith Weber, ISU's GIS director. “The instructions, 'Go one-quarter mile and turn right?' That's all GIS."
In the 10-plus years GIS has received grant money from NASA, they have used that money to find out which areas are high-risk areas for fires, look at invasive weeds that come in after the fire's out an study the influence of livestock grazing.
"We've helped out with about a half dozen fires right now in this fire season,” Weber said. “We practiced with the Crystal Fire in 2006 as we were building this thing and we also practiced with the Charlotte Fire."
With the fires we've been seeing in Idaho, the GIS program has been instrumental in helping the BLM map the burned areas.
While the fire is burning, crews first priority is to get the fire contained. Only when the fire's out do they start the planning process for rehabilitating the area. But that planning took about two to five days just to get the geographical information of the area. With this program, it only takes 35 minutes.
GIS has streamlined the process with this program. Fire managers can find how severe the fire was in some parts, and compare that to the elevation – all in one spot. They have helped fire managers get information about the area before, during and after the fire, helping them plan recovery faster.
Weber says all this is their way of doing their part.
"I think it's really important,” Weber said, “but all the stuff that we're doing is to support the fire managers and firefighters.
One of the best parts? They can begin the process in the field, and access the information on their phone.
This program is only available in Idaho right now. The official name of the project is the Rehabilitation Capability Convergence for Ecosystem Recovery, or the RECOVER project.