USA – Your Strava data isn’t just used to track your routes and see how your segments stack up against other runners. Now, it may help firefighters fight wildfires, too.
In the study published in Applied Geography, researchers used Strava data from around 30,000 people, encompassing around 81,000 miles of runs, walks, and hikes on trails in and around Salt Lake City from July 2016 to June 2017.
It’s no surprise that it takes you longer to go up an incline than it does on flat ground. But researchers were looking to take that info one step further, and use it to help firefighters fight wildfires safely. This is especially important now, since recent wildfires have been more devastating than ever—last year’s Camp Fire in California burned over 153,000 acres and killed 86 people.
“Steep slopes, both uphill and downhill, slow you down. Despite the obviousness of this statement, and despite the almost universal nature of this experience, the very specific quantitative nature of the slope-travel rate relationship has not been very well-understood,” lead study author Mickey Campbell, Ph.D., an assistant professor of geosciences at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, told Runner’s World.
Based on the Strava data, researchers could tell a person’s location and how fast they were moving. They were then able to develop travel rate functions—an equation that can be used to estimate how fast people move from one place to another based on certain known factors.
People’s speeds were ranked in 21 groups by speed. The slowest group took 33 minutes to walk a mile on flat ground. With that same level of exertion, they determined that moving one mile up a steep, 30-degree slope would take about 97 minutes, and to go down the 30-degree slope would take about 65 minutes.
On the flip side, people in the fastest group took about 6 minutes to cover one mile on flat ground. With that same level of exertion, it would take them 13 minutes to move up the 30-degree slope, and 9 minutes to come back down.
In many situations, it can be extremely important to accurately predict how long it’s going to take to traverse terrain, Campbell explained. For example, if a wildland firefighter needs to evacuate the fire line to get to a safe area in a potentially life-threatening scenario, which way should he or she go? If there is a safe area 1,000 feet away, but it is up a 30-degree slope, would that take quicker or longer to get to than another safe area 3,000 feet away, but accessible through flat terrain?
“By leveraging the power of a massive, crowdsourced database of GPS tracks, we were able to quantify the slope-travel rate relationship to a more precise and accurate degree than ever before, and potentially help answer these critical questions,” Campbell said.
Think Google Maps for firefighters. Just as maps analyze traffic data to predict travel time and give efficient routes, the hope is that the U.S. Forest Service can use data from this study and future research to develop a similar app for fire crews.
“For wildland firefighters, the slope of the terrain is largely what determines the most efficient path to safety, and dictates how long it’s going to take,” Campbell said. “Our goal is to provide firefighters with the ability to press a button on their phone and not only map the best route to safety, but also provide a travel time estimate.”