Challenges to Real Time

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2003-12-04 Print this article Print

When the systems capacity was strained by the volume of fires in Southern California, the answer was to add two Windows Terminal Servers, says Russ Nichols, manager of applications for the CDF.

Although information is manually extracted from MIRPS to calculate costs, it cant calculate the tab on the fly. California does come up with daily estimates, however. Financial analysts take information from MIRPS, say 25 engines deployed in San Diego, and manually add it to a financial system where costs are added up once a day.

Another factor that prevents the operation from being as "real-time" an enterprise as firefighters would like is the delivery of information to dispatchers. At the beginning of a fire, dispatchers are generally sent instructions and requests by phone or radio. For extended attacks, such as fires that last for days, California has a system called Incinet, an on-the-scene Unix server that connects to MIRPS to help manage resources.

Finally, the simple need to enter new information such as location of the fire, identification of a fire engine assigned to it and last day off for a crew slows down response.

"Were as real-time as the data entry is if were swamped," says Nichols, adding that during the wildfires, it sometimes took 15 to 20 minutes to add data such as type of resource requested, availability and destination into the system. If there was a request for an out-of-state resource, data had to be entered twice.

That data entry time could be shortened if California decides to link MIRPS with a similar countrywide system called ROSS, the National Interagency Resource Order and Status System, run by The National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Without a link or merger with that system, Chamlee and other California dispatch chiefs cant order an air tanker – an airplane retrofitted to dump water or fire retardant on fires-- from Oregon directly. To get that air tanker or a similar piece of equipment from out of state, information is pulled from MIRPS and manually typed into ROSS, which scans the country to find it.

California officials now will study whether to integrate MIRPS with ROSS. Both systems track resources and their availability and status in real-time. Neither can yet deliver instant cost calculations, but ROSS uses standard accounting codes that can be downloaded into state systems. ROSS also is built on standard Internet technologies such as Java.. MIRPS, by contrast, is a custom application delivered over a closed state network.

ROSS, in general, is more sophisticated than MIRPS. For instance, it treats the procurement of people and equipment the same way it handles supplies and inventory. Officials can procure all items directly from vendors, through ROSS. They can also receive and process bills. Costs can beascribed to the locale where fires are fought. California firefighters cant do this in MIRPS.

Within the state, however, financials are a less-pressing consideration. Why? Counties in California have a mutual aid system where resources are moved from one to another without charge. The theory is that if a San Francisco engine is given to San Diego in a wildfire, the favor may be returned at a later date.

Next Page: Is ROSS ready for primetime?"

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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