Failures of leadership have been cited as a factor contributing to wildland fire accidents. There is no substitute for experience with fighting actual wildfires, but experience can be hard to come by and tragically unforgiving. Fortunately, there are tactical decision games, such as sand table exercises, that allow firefighters to practice situational assessment, to consider and select courses of action, and to practice communicating those decisions on three-dimensional (3D) terrain models.
SimTable, a company located in Santa Fe, can predict and display fire behavior using an interactive, 3D, agent-based model. The SimTable™ combines the tactile nature of a sand table with applied high-level mathematics. Partners Chas Curtis and Stephen Guerin developed a program capable of forecasting fire behavior utilizing slope, terrain, wind speed, wind direction, vegetation, and other factors. They have also programmed algorithms to model human response to fire. The SimTable™ calibrates the topography of the sand and indicates where to adjust the piles so the 3D sand table agrees with the projected Geographic Information System data from the target region.
The topography of the area can then be seen in color-coated representations of a slope or switched to a Google Earth image. When Guerin and Curtis sought to make the simulation more interactive, they approached the NMSBA Program for assistance. This resulted in the involvement of Dr. Rohan Loveland of LANL’s Space and Remote Sensing Sciences Department, who provided assistance by developing algorithms for object-tracking machine vision. Now the SimTable™ “sees” movement and objects through a camera and can project the “screen” anywhere. SimTable is a 2010 recipient of a Los Alamos National Security, LLC Venture Acceleration Fund (VAF) award. According to Curtis, the company anticipates hiring two engineers to work on the design and manufacturing of the SimTable™ by the end of the year.