Granada, Spain — It is difficult to create a computer model that reproduces forest fires extinction, a complex process that depends on such a changing factor as fire. But this is what a research group of the Higher Technical School of Computer Engineering of the University of Granada (UGR), intends to achieve with the SIADEX project.
It applies Artificial Intelligence techniques, also used by the Pentagon of the USA, to the fight against fires in Andalusia. According to Luis Castillo, one of the persons in charge of the project, we do not intend to substitute extinction experts, but to offer them a useful and simple tool to take decisions.
SIADEX is an intelligent system capable of generating, in an autonomous way, extinction plans for forest fires on the ground from the available data (where did the fire started, environment, resources available, etc.). This system gathers a series of computer programs, among which two stand out: BACAREX, a knowledge base where the experience of the Plan INFOCA is included, and the SIADEX, a program capable of using the data of the INFOCA to establish plans for action. The extinction expert will have access to this system by means of the Internet, using a desktop computer, a portable or even a PDA (a small digital device).
SIADEX uses a technology which has also been used by the Department of Defence of the USA, but, according to Castillo, the system developed in the university of Granada (Universidad de Granada [http://www.ugr.es]) can be ten times faster. This program can generate more than 1000 extinction operations in one second, which allows the expert to obtain plans of action very quickly. Besides, computer engineers of Granada do not only want the system to generate plans, but also to determinate alternative strategies, offering not just an A plan, but options B, C, or D to choose, thinks Castillo.
Working with vagueness
But, in such a changing process as a forest fire, the computer system must be able to rectify, adapting to the new circumstances. So, researchers are working on SIADEX feedback, for the program to generate new solutions with from new data provided by the expert of the INFOCA. This redesign must take 3 or 4 minutes. Another feature of this system is that it can work with vagueness, something essential to adapt to real situations.
SIADEX can ask a plane to refuel in an interval between 10 and 10:30, without asking for a definite time to achieve its own plan, says the person in charge for the project. On the other hand, access must be simple to make INFOCA´s work easier. The project is also working on this aspect, developing an Internet portal that allows the expert to include and receive information in an easy way. It must be also accessible for political authorities to get to know how resources are mobilized while extinguishing a fire.
If we want SIADEX to be a useful tool it must have updated and accurate information available on technique, human and natural resources involved. The Plan INFOCA has already developed initiatives in this sense, like GPS fire localization systems, digital maps, or computer resources endowment for technicians (portables, PDAs, etc.). In fact, the SIADEX project is the answer of this research group to an announcement of the Plan INFOCA to apply the R&D to fire forests. In 2003 3.48 millions euros were set aside for this reason.
But, as in many other fields, the application of new technologies is a question of training. So, as soon as SIADEX will be finished, around the middle of 2006, it will be mainly used as a virtual training system for the fire extinction staff. Castillo emphasizes the willingness showed by the INFOCA experts of the Provincial Operative Centre of Granada about working with new computer tools. This year, the plan provides for an investment in the province of 14 million euros and will mobilize about 700 persons. The total budget of the INFOCA is 101 million euros.
Luis Castillo emphasizes that all the computer development has been carried out in Andalusia to solve a problem of ours. The autonomous region has 4.3 million hectares of forest land. According to the data of the Department for the Environment, in 2003 426 burned in Granada, 4.3% of the total of the affected area in Andalusia (9,881 hectares). But fire incidence was much worse last year: according to SEPRONA, 32,143 hectares were devastated in the region, the highest area in the country. Despite these figures, the Plan INFOCA is considered as a reference in the fight against fire: in 2003, it received the National Prize to the best forest fire extinction catch.