Report on Early Warning for Fire and Other Environmental Hazards: III. RECOMMENDATIONS


Report on Early Warning for
Fire and Other Environmental Hazards



International Initiatives and Non-binding International Guidelines

Science and Technology Development

Recommendations by the IDNDR Early Warning Working Group on Fire and Other Environmental Hazards

The recommendations given by the IDNDR Early Warning Working Group on fire and other environmental hazards build on a series of previous international efforts which addressed the needs of international collaboration in providing and sharing information and technologies. In so doing, these efforts can create the institutional mechanisms necessary to fulfill the overall goals of the IDNDR as related to fire disasters. The recommendations are in agreement with, and legitimised by, international initiatives of scientific, management and policy institutions. They address a broad scale of fire management issues which will be mentioned because they are prerequisites for operational early warning systems. Summary recommendations of the IDNDR Early Warning Working Group are given at the end of this chapter.

International Initiatives and Non-binding International Guidelines

The methodologies, systems, and procedures in early warning of fire and atmospheric pollution, as in the preceding chapter, are not equally available worldwide. Furthermore, some information systems, such as the global fire data set, global coverage of fire-weather prediction, or real-time monitoring of active fires are still in the phase of being tested and further developed.

Several recent international initiatives in fire science and policy planning have developed concepts and visions for collaboration in fire science and management at international level. The recommendations of the UN FAO/ECE Seminar “Forest, Fire, and Global Change”, Shushenskoe, Russian Federation, August 1996 (ECE/FAO/ILO, 1996), acknowledged by the resolution of the International Wildland Fire ’97 Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, May 1997 (Clevette, 1997; Anonymous, 1997), and presented at the 11th World Forestry Congress, Antalya, Turkey, October 1997 (Goldammer, 1997c), underscored the need of providing international agreements which address the following issues:

i) Quantifiable information on the spatial and temporal distribution of global vegetation fires is urgently needed relative to both global change and disaster management issues.

Considering the various recent initiatives of the UN system in favour of global environmental protection and sustainable development, the ECE/FAO/ILO Seminar on Forest, Fire and Global Change strongly urges the formation of a dedicated United Nations unit specifically designed to use the most modern means available to develop a global fire inventory, producing a first-order product in the very near future, and subsequently improving this product over the next decade. This fire inventory data will provide the basic inputs into the development of a Global Vegetation Fire Information System. The FAO should take the initiative and coordinate a forum with other UN and non-UN organizations working in this field, e.g. various scientific activities of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), to ensure the realization of this recommendation. (See also Recommendations of ECE/FAO and the international fire science community [Anonymous, 1995]).

ii) The development of a satellite dedicated to quantifying the geographical extent and environmental impact of vegetation fires is strongly supported.

iii) A timely process to gather and share information on ongoing wildfire situations across the globe is required.

iv) Mechanisms should be established that promote community self-reliance for mitigating wildfire damages and that would also permit rapid and effective resource-sharing between countries as wildfire disasters develop.

It is recommended that the UN prepare the necessary measures in this regard, which should follow the objectives and principles of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR).

v) The unprecedented threat of consequences from fires burning in radioactively contaminated vegetation, and the lack of experience and technologies of radioactive fire management, requires a special, internationally concerted research, prevention and control programme.

The International Tropical Timber Organization of the UN took a first step in its development of “Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests” (ITTO, 1997). They provide comprehensive guidance targeted at the situation in the economically less developed regions of the tropics. Among other comments, the guidelines state:

“Assessment, prediction and monitoring of fire risk and means of quantification of forest fires and other rural fires are prerequisites for fire management planning purposes. Statistical data sets can also be used to call attention of authorities, policy makers and the general public. In the tropics such information is difficult to be gathered by ground based-methods. Air- and space borne sensors offer possibilities to monitor less accessible and sparsely populated land areas with inadequate ground-based infrastructures.”

Accordingly, ITTO recommends:

i) Seeking access to meteorological information from ground stations and space borne systems and the utilization of this information for fire intelligence (fire risk assessment).

ii) Use of existing orbital remote sensing systems for fire detection and prediction which provide real-time information on the geographic location of fires.

iii) ITTO member countries should join others in supporting the development of international mechanisms to predict wildfires (early warning systems).

iv) The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) should ensure that in the implementation of Agenda 21 for forests, due attention is given to forest fires in relation to arrangements that may be developed to harmonize and promote international efforts to protect the world’s forests.

v) A UN-sponsored Global Fire Research and Management Facility which includes a Global Vegetation Fire Information System and the capabilities to provide support on request to any nation in fire management and prevention and management of wildfire disasters should be considered by the CSD.

The ITTO guidelines provide general recommendations which will need to be fine-tuned to meet specific national requirements. In Indonesia, for instance, ITTO is sponsoring the development of the “National Guidelines on Protection of Forests against Fire” which will be finalized in December 1997. This initiative is particularly important in light of the repeated smog episodes in South East Asia caused by land-use fires and wildfires. Other countries, such as Namibia, aim to base their national programmes on the ITTO guidelines.

The first regional initiative is underway in the region of member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The resolution and recommendations of the ASEAN Conference on “Transboundary Pollution and the Sustainability of Tropical Forests: Towards Wise Forest Fire Management” in Kuala Lumpur, Dec. 1996, stated (ASEAN, 1997):

“The Conference recognised the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests which has been adopted by most of the ASEAN member countries”.

It further recommended that,

“A collaborative meteorological and air monitoring information network and workable partnership in ASEAN should be further explored. The network would make use of up-to-date remote sensing and communication technologies in order to provide regional assessment of fire risk, fire and smoke events and early warning systems. The related existing national and regional institutions should form a core group of agencies that could be coordinated by a regional centre, such as the AIFM. This centre will take the lead in the organisation of such a network, and to assist the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN) Haze Technical Task Force, as required in the ASEAN Cooperation Plan on Transboundary Pollution.”

Another regional initiative is proceeding in the Baltic Basin. The First Baltic Conference on Forest Fire (4-8 May 1998, Poland) is designed to improve the cooperation in early warning of fire and fire management among the countries bordering the Baltic Sea; candidate warning and alert systems are described above in the section on Automatic Fire Alerts.

Science and Technology Development

Fire research and technology development have received considerable stimulation by scientific projects conducted under the umbrella of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and other programmes devoted to global change research (see e.g. Andreae et al., 1993; Journal of Geophysical Research Special Issue, 1996; FIRESCAN Science Team, 1996; Malingreau and Justice, 1997; van Wilgen et al., 1997). While the scope of global change research is not necessarily directed towards requirements of operational management systems, e.g. early warning of natural hazards, the spin-offs of basic science nevertheless have a considerable potential for management solutions.

However, the application of existing technologies, methods, and procedures of information gathering, processing and distribution has revealed that many of the existing systems must be developed further in order to meet the requirements of precise and real-time application for early warning and management of fire and other environmental hazards.

Communication systems for early warning information dissemination are generally advanced since they rely on the technology progress in the civilian telecommunication sector. Space borne sensing and collection of real-time data for early fire warning purposes generally depend on systems which were not specifically designed for sensing fire precursors, active fires, and fire effects. Thus, a short overview is given below on the most important sensors which are currently designed or are in progress of construction.

New space borne sensors for early warning of fires and atmospheric pollution

In accordance with the analysis of Kendall et al. (1997) it is obvious that the remote sensing fire community, in addition to continuing experimentation and refinement of methods, needs to provide the operational monitoring data sets, at regional and global scales, to contribute to early warning of fire hazard, to fire and smoke management, and to earth system studies. The development of operational automated monitoring techniques and the provision of consistent long term data sets is a challenge that the remote sensing community is now facing. Issues associated with prohibitive data costs, computing resources, data management, data archival, and distribution need to be addressed.

Data set development is being undertaken with satellite sensing systems which were not designed for fire monitoring purposes. The current suite of sensors suitable for fire monitoring have problems such as calibration, saturation, spatial resolution, orbital overpass time, and coverage, which need to be taken into account in the data processing and data set compilation. It is critical that the user community fully understands the limitations of the data and its utility. New sensors are being designed and built which will reduce or eliminate some of these problems, but they will introduce new, and in some cases unanticipated, problems. The development of new satellite data sets is an iterative process and one which needs to be undertaken in close collaboration with the user community. The planned sensing systems will certainly provide a challenge to the remote sensing community in terms of data volume. The challenge will be to render the raw data to a volume and information content suited to the user community.

Some of the sensing systems which are in the planning and/or construction phase are facing financial constraints. The user community which requires new space borne technologies for early warning applications therefore underscores the need to realize these planned satellite programmes:

MODIS Imaging System

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) is planned for launch as part of NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) in 1998. This system will provide new capabilities over the currently utilized coarse resolution sensors. Thirty-six spectral bands are planned between 0.4ìm and 14.3ìm at resolutions ranging from 250m to 1000m. Currently, two MODIS instruments are planned with the first platform providing a 10:30 am and pm overpass and the second providing a 2:30 am and pm overpass. For fire monitoring, the one kilometre infrared channels at 3.96ìm and 11.0ìm bands will have increased saturation levels, 500K and 335K respectively, which will permit improved active fire monitoring. Full resolution MODIS fire products will have 1 km resolution, and the data will be summarized for coarser grids. In the post launch period, emphasis will be placed on validating the fire product and developing and testing automated burn scar detection techniques. The improved spatial and radiometric resolution of MODIS at 250m in the visible and near-infrared bands will permit more accurate area estimate of burn scars.

BIRD Satellite Observation

BIRD will be a small satellite mission for early warning of vegetation conditions and fires. Starting from their FIRES proposal (Jahn et al., 1996) the DLR (Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt) had proposed a new approach in the design of a small satellite mission dedicated to hot spot detection and evaluation. The new approach is characterized by a strict design-to-cost philosophy. A two-channel infrared sensor system in combination with a Wide-Angle Optoelectronic Stereo Scanner (WAOSS) shall be the payload of a small satellite (80kg). The unique combination of a stereo camera and two infrared cameras gives the opportunity to acquire both more precise information about leaf mass and photosynthesis for the early diagnosis of vegetation condition and changes, as well as real time discrimination between smoke and clouds. The primary objectives of the planned BIRD mission are:

  • test of a new generation of infrared array sensors adapted to earth remote sensing objectives by means of small satellites;
  • detection and scientific investigation of hot spots, including forest fires, volcanic activities, burning oil wells or coal seams; and
  • thematic on-board data processing, and testing a neuronal network classificator in orbit.

Next generation geosynchronous satellites

The next generation of geosynchronous satellites will provide improved fire monitoring capabilities with continued high temporal coverage. This means that a better understanding of the diurnal cycle of fire in a range of ecosystems will be possible. For monitoring North and South America, the GOES NEXT (I-M) series of satellites was launched in 1994. The new GOES satellites offer greater radiometric sensitivity and spatial resolution along with improved geolocation. Preliminary results from GOES-I data indicate enhanced capabilities in the identification of fires and the quantification of associated haze. Geosynchronous coverage of Africa and Europe will also be improved in the coming years as the METEOSAT Second Generation (MSG) satellites are launched in 1998. MSG will offer a significant improvement in biomass burning monitoring capabilities through increased spectral coverage. The new sensors will provide 3 km scale coverage every fifteen to thirty minutes with a spectral range similar to that provided by the NOAA-AVHRR. With the addition of a middle-infrared channel (3.8ìm), an opportunity for thorough investigation of the diurnal cycle of fire in African ecosystems will be feasible at last.

Future Challenges: Multi-spectral and multi-temporal sensing of early warning parameters

Early warning, monitoring and inventory of wildfire needs to be accompanied by monitoring and inventory of those ecological characteristics which lead to fire. Disturbances, such as insect or disease outbreak, wind throw of trees, forestry practices and other land use activities frequently are precursors to fire events, fire patterns and resulting severity. Insects and disease stress ecosystems, resulting in partial mortality and production of dead materials, particularly foliage and other fine materials which are critical to fire ignition and behaviour. Post-fire vegetation recovery is important to predict fire-return intervals.

Advanced early warning systems will need to integrate these parameters into multi-layer fire information systems. Geographic information systems (GIS) technology, combined with decision support systems (expert systems), offer feasible, cost-efficient, and user-friendly solutions.

International fire research programmes

The fire research programmes conducted under the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) offer a suitable mechanism to provide the scientific perspectives for the IDNDR. As it is anticipated that the consequences of global change in general and climate change in particular will increase global natural hazards, the merging of joint interests between the IGBP and IDNDR communities seems to be advisable.


Recommendations by the IDNDR Early Warning Working Group on Fire and Other Environmental Hazards

In accordance with the conclusions and recommendations given by the various international initiatives, the IDNDR Early Warning Working Group on Fire and other Environmental Hazards comes to the following recommendations for priority activities:

i) A global fire inventory must be designed and implemented, producing a first-class product in the very near future, in order to provide a basis for early warning systems. Subsequently, this product then must be improved for standardized application over the next decade.

Fire inventory data is necessary to provide the basic inputs into the development of a future relational (geo-referenced) global fire database within the proposed Global Vegetation Fire Information System (GVFIS). FAO should take the initiative and coordinate a forum with other UN and non-UN organizations working in this field, including various scientific activities of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the mechanisms of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 1997).

ii) A timely process to gather and share real-time information about ongoing wildfire situations on a global basis is required.

This follows a proposal to create the World Fire Web in which a network of centres with facilities to receive and process fire observation data from satellites will be connected via the World Wide Web (WWW). Through the World Fire Web scientists, managers, and policy makers can have instant access to local, regional and world data so that they can can exchange experiences, methods and trouble-shoot with each other. The World Fire Web, in conjunction with the space borne evaluation of vegetation dryness, fire-weather forecasts and the possibility of forecasting fire danger and fire behaviour may provide a powerful early warning and disaster preparedness and management tool at national, regional and global scales. The information network should include the resource status by continuously monitoring the disposition of suppression resources. This includes the location and status of individual resources as well as potential availability for inter-agency and international mobilization.

iii) Technology transfer and information exchange on early warning and fire management decision support systems must be provided through international collaborative agreements or technical assistance programmes. Such programmes must support countries in fire-prone regions of the tropics and subtropics where advanced fire management systems are not yet fully available.

iv) The development of space borne sensor technologies devoted to the specific tasks of recognizing wildfire disaster precursors, fire activities, and the impacts of fire (ecological, atmospheric, chemical) must receive high priority.

v) Additional fire research is needed in those locations where existing early warning systems cannot be applied due to the particular relationships between vegetation, local/regional weather and prevailing socio-economic or cultural conditions which contribute to wildfires and their secondary damages, such as atmospheric pollution.

South East Asia is one of the less explored regions in which fire research must receive adequate attention as proposed by the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Pollution initiative as well as by the IGBP global-change oriented science programmes. These include the South East Asian Fire Experiment (SEAFIRE) and the SARCS Integrated IGBP/IHDP/WCRP Study on Land-use Change in Southeast Asia.

vi) Policies and agreements on environmental protection at international levels should ensure that in the implementation of Agenda 21 for forests, due attention is given to forests fires in relation to arrangements that may be developed to harmonize and promote international efforts to protect the world’s forests.

vi) The suggestion of ITTO to establish a UN-sponsored facility for global fire research and management is endorsed to facilitate the development of the proposed Global Vegetation Fire Information System. This is considered essential in order to provide support on request to any nation in early warning, prevention, management and mitigation of wildfire disasters.

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