“While there have been other fire monitoring tools in the past, the GFW-Fires system is unique because it combines data, such as hotspots, wind direction, land shape and features, and concessions [forestry licenses], on a single platform,” Andika Putraditama, Outreach Officer of WRI in Indonesia told FutureGov.
Reducing response time
Previously, it took over 20 hours for a district government to dispatch a team after a hotspot was detected on a government system. “That’s a lot of delay. During that time, a small fire can evolve into a huge uncontrollable forest fire,” he said.
With the GFW-Fires system, every district agency, non-governmental organisation and forest firefighter on the ground can register their phone numbers to receive fire alerts on their mobile once a hotspot is detected. Putraditama said that WRI has seen a 80% reduction time from 20 hours down to approximately two to four hours with the automated system.
Using analytics to combat forest fires
Analytics can be a great tool for predicting and managing forest fires, Peter Eredics, Forestry Manager, Esri told FutureGov.
With limited resources, authorities need to identify target areas which can be most effective in putting out the fire. “Analytics can help you forecast how the fire will develop by looking at the current rate of spread, wind and topography. This is particularly important for the safety of firefighters because you don’t want to send them in to an area where it’s too risky or where flare ups may occur,” he said.
Authorities can also analyse landbase to identify areas prone to fires. WRI has found that majority of recent fires in Sumatra Indonesia are in the Riau province. And most of them occur on peat, partially decayed vegetation, that create a tremendous amount of haze when they catch on fire.
“Analytics provide insight on such high risk areas so authorities can make changes to eradicate such optimal conditions for fire,” he said.
Eredics added that not enough organisations understand the benefits of analytics in aiding decision making. “Many organisations have spent a lot of energy collecting data, but few of them actually translate that into analysis. It is important to take a moment to analyse the data, turn it into useful information so it can better guide management decisions.”
Challenge: Data inaccuracy
One of the challenges faced by the National REDD+ Agency and WRI team is the inconsistency in data. “For example, satellite images showed that the fire clusters are in the oil palm plantations in Riau province. When we overlay the fire locations with the database from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, we saw that the fires were actually within timber concession boundaries instead,” described Putraditama.
The Indonesian OneMap initiative is intended to solve such inaccuracies and inconsistency in data across government agencies, he continued. “It is however a complicated and tedious process because it involves many ministries and all of them will have to agree on what information should be shared, and the definitions of every category and item shared.”
Benefits of opening up data
Putraditama and his team believe that releasing data to the public through the GFW-Fires system will improve the quality of data over time. In the last fire season, the team shared data on fire hotspots and forestry licensing areas with plantation companies, which turned out to be an effective way of identifying all the errors.
“Many companies approached us to clarify the data that we have shared and we now have the commitment from major companies to share their data with us. The GFW-Fires system releases significant information - particularly fire hotspots and concession data - to the public, and we believe that we’ll get more feedback on which information is inaccurate so we can fix it and gradually develop a more accurate dataset,” he said.