Published: 
Oct 3, 2019

NASA-Created Map Saves $1.2 Million in Staff Time

A NASA-created map that consolidated 26 different post-fire data sets can now do in minutes what used to take federal, state and local agencies 800 hours to compile. In 2018, a record year for fires, that saved those agencies the equivalent of more than $1.2 million dollars in staff time.

Map image highlighting fire-affected plants
The RECOVER website map showing how users can select various data sets; in this case, fire-affected plants. Credit: Keith Weber

An online, post-fire decision support tool that quickly provides important information for response teams in the wake of a fire, the map shows where a fire's aftermath leaves an area vulnerable to debris flow, flooding, erosion and landslides.

The map is called Rehabilitation Capability Convergence for Ecosystem Recovery (RECOVER), and it's the brainchild of Keith Weber, an investigator supported by the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program.

Before RECOVER, agencies could spend four to five days collecting, reviewing and analyzing fire data like burn severity, soil type and the slope of the land itself. Now, RECOVER incorporates all these data and dozens more (26 different layers in total) for users in one map – in as little as 5 minutes – meaning fire management agencies can better understand the reach and severity of a new fire, even as the blaze is still burning.

Released in 2013, RECOVER is an important tool in the fire managers’ toolbox, used more extensively in 2018 than in any previous year, particularly during California’s Woolsey fire.

In addition to recovery efforts, RECOVER's information is also important for first responders. If a landscape is too steep, it can become dangerous for firefighters to use trucks or bulldozers – instead, they have to proceed on foot. Now included in RECOVER is data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) on the slope of the land. It also includes soil type and measures of the “greenness” of plants, all factors that help wildfire response agencies understand how to safely recover from a fire.

By Lia Poteet 
Earth Science Division - Applied Sciences, Washington DC

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