August 21, 2007
Combating wildfires with keystrokes
ATLANTA -- Computer programs will be just as crucial in the 21st century firefighter's arsenal as water hoses and fire engines, according to a Georgia State University researcher.
A software program in development by Xiaolin Hu, assistant professor of computer science, and his collaborators can predict the path and speed of a wildfire by taking into account wind speed, slope of the land and type of forestation. Similar computer programs are already on the market, but Hu's software will take firefighters a step further by allowing them to compute the optimal use of manpower, equipment and funds for suppressing a wildfire.
The software will be linked to a database providing real-time updates on weather conditions and the changing fire front, allowing firefighters to tweak calculations as they monitor ongoing fire suppression efforts.
Hu's life is one of many touched by wildfires over the past decade, which have burned more than 5.5 million acres this year alone in the United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Hu recalls living in Tucson, Ariz., when a wildfire broke out in 2003 on Mount Lemmon, charring 84,750 acres and destroying street after street of homes.
"This work means to me more than a regular research project," Hu said. "It is an action that we take to respond to the tragedy in 2003, which constantly reminds us how important an advanced systems software tool could be in managing catastrophic wildfires."
The DEVS-FIRE software program, which is expected to be completed within two years, will be made available for free upon completion. Hu is the principal investigator and Georgia State University is the lead institution on the research, which was funded on Aug. 1 by a $120,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Hu is collaborating with Lewis Ntaimo at Texas A&M and James Nutaro at the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee. For more information or to schedule an interview with Hu, contact Andria Simmons at 404-413-1356 or email@example.com.