by Scott Prater
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
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
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