Thursday, July 18, 2013

2 SOPS' GPS operations center answers firefighting call

by Scott Prater
Schriever Sentinel

7/17/2013 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- Capt. Tim Bouma, Army Space Support Team 27 operations officer, stood in the midst of the West Fork wildfire June 25 when he noticed firefighters on the ground having trouble getting accurate position readings from their commercial GPS receivers.

With the fire burning out of control and threatening the town of South Fork, Bouma knew just who to call.

He contacted the GPS Operations Center here and asked for assistance.
The GPSOC members jumped into action immediately and began providing analysis products to Bouma the same day.

"First, we needed to figure out why firefighters were having trouble getting accurate GPS signals," said Steve Tanksley, GPSOC lead mission analyst. "From there, we then determined the best and most useful product for the users."

The GPSOC team determined mountainous terrain and trees were interfering with the GPS signal, so they produced analysis, which indicated "dead spots" on a map for firefighters.

"We know where the satellites are on orbit at any given time, so based on that knowledge, we were able to determine the areas where signals could be interrupted," said 1st Lt. Carson Cleveland, 2nd Space Operations Squadron, Weapons and Tactics Flight officer. "Using the product we provided, firefighters were able to move constantly to areas where they could receive signals."

The information proved invaluable to firefighters on the ground.

"They had pilots in the air ready to drop slurry on the fire, but they needed accurate GPS coordinates to relay to those pilots," Tanksley said. "They were also cutting fire lines and coordinating teams on the ground, so they needed the most accurate picture of the area they could get."

The GPSOC provided firefighters with GPS prediction charts of the wildfire area near Pagosa Springs, Colo., every day from June 26 through July 3 and even developed post-event analysis the following week.

To date, the West Fork Fire Complex has burned more than 109,000 acres and is 50 percent contained.

"Considering we have members of our team here who were evacuated from the Black Forest fire area, helping to fight the West Fork wildfire had a special significance for us," Tanksley said. "Sometimes we don't get feedback on the effects we provide, but with this project, we could simply watch the news and know that we contributed to the firefighting effort."

Providing charts, graphs, analysis and support to people in dire circumstances is nothing new for the GPSOC. Bouma knew just who to call because ARSST teams have routinely asked for GPSOC support when conducting warfighting operations in Afghanistan.

"They are our regular customers," Tanksley said. "They know us and they know what we can provide. For us, these types of supports are exciting. It's satisfying to know we're helping warfighters prevent IED [improvised explosive device] explosions. Now to know we're helping pilots drop slurry on wildfires in our own community is extra gratifying."

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