MAKING INFORMATION USEFUL: Scientists developed a method for visualizing National Weather Service (NWS) data on maps. They use Geographic Information System (GIS) software, which can be customized to show information vital to firefighters, emergency planners, and farmers. They allow users to create layers of relevant information which layer atop a map to form a comprehensive picture of events. In disaster response situations, people must be mobile and have immediate access to information. The software uses programs called intelligent agents to enable mobile devices to function smoothly even if they cannot always access a wireless network. The agents monitor changes in the network and store and secure data in the event of a network disruption. Such programs can run on any type of mobile device, use any type of wireless network, and even establish their own ad hoc networks in the event that all other available networks fail, all of which can make a big difference during a disaster.
RUNNING WILD: Weather is a key factor in starting and spreading wildfires -- particularly drought, which dries out vegetation. Trees, underbrush, dry grassy fields, pine needles, dry leaves and twigs can all cause and spread forest fires because they burn faster, like kindling, than large logs or stumps. The more fuel that is present, the more intensely the fire will burn and the faster it will spread. When the fuel is very dry, such as after a long drought, it is consumed much faster, and the fire is much more difficult to contain. As the fire spreads, it generates heat that evaporates the moisture in potential fuel materials just beyond it, making it easier for those to ignite. Wind can also help spread a forest fire, and is the most unpredictable factor. Winds supply the fire with extra oxygen and push it across the land at a faster rate. Because the wind generally flows uphill, fires also travel faster up a slope than downhill.