Updates & Blog

Organizing the Chaos: Deploying Wildfire Resources Across the Nation

Nancy Ellsworth
Center Manager
Southern Area Coordination Center
Firemen putting out fire.

Each year, wildland firefighters battle an average of 60,000 wildfires nationwide – wildfires which require an immense amount of coordination, personnel and resources from start to finish. When wildfire activity outpaces locally available resources, wildland firefighters and support personnel from various agencies and organizations across the nation show up to lend a hand.

To handle the dispatch, prioritization and tracking of personnel and resources as they move across the country to help, wildfire management agencies rely on coordination provided by the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) in Boise, Idaho and 10 Geographic Area Coordination Centers (GACC) throughout the country.

About the Southern Area Coordination Center

The GACC covering the southeastern United States, the Southern Area Coordination Center (SACC), supports interagency dispatch needs for 439 units including but not limited to 13 state forestry organizations, 35 national forests, 184 national wildlife refuges and 152 national park units. SACC is an all-risk coordination center which provides support in response to wildfire incidents and other emergencies such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. This is accomplished through planning, communications, situation monitoring, need projections and expediting resource orders between federal land management agencies, state agencies and other partners.

During 2021, the Southern Area experienced more than 22,000 wildfires that burned nearly 533,000 acres. The staff at SACC processed over 42,400 resource orders last year for aircraft, crews, equipment, overhead and supplies. Between June and September 2021, SACC coordinated the deployment of more than 2,200 southern state forestry agency personnel to wildfires across the country.

SACC is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to assist its agencies with resource mobilization and logistical support. In addition to coordinating resource mobilization, additional services provided by SACC include:

  • Providing vital communications between agencies in emergency situations.
  • Providing information for decision makers through daily situation reports and predictive services.
  • Supporting wildfire mitigation and land management activities in the Southeast through the sharing of interagency personnel, equipment and other resources.
  • Supporting federal, state and local emergency management organizations.
  • Coordinating and conducting training for dispatch personnel.

Why is Coordinated Dispatch Important?

SACC support allows for the following advantages and safeguards for all agencies and organizations involved:

  • Coordinated dispatch alleviates the logistical burden on ordering agencies by providing additional bandwidth for them to focus on local incident management and on-the-ground response.
  • SACC makes sure the right resources are assigned when and where they are needed most.
  • Maintaining a shared system and procedure for dispatch management improves compatibility and efficiency as personnel and resources move from one agency or area to another.
  • SACC supports easier scalability of resources as incidents grow in size and complexity.
  • Coordinated Dispatch improves safety by ensuring that everyone and everything is accounted for and tracked from the moment they leave to the moment they return home.

How Does it Work?

When a fire is reported, the local agency and its firefighting partners respond. If the fire continues to grow, the agency can ask for help from SACC, which in turn will canvas the other areas and agencies within the Southern Area to see if they can meet the need. When all geographic resources are exhausted, SACC can turn to the NICC for help locating necessary resources from other geographic areas utilizing the closest forces concept. The main tool utilized in locating resources is the Incident Resource Ordering Capability (IROC) tool.

Key personnel who participate in this process include representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Southern Group of State Foresters, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and other interagency partners.

SACC Support to the Southern States

SACC provides support to the 13 southern states as well as the other agencies within the geographic area. One of the ways SACC engages with state agencies is through compact ordering. In 2022, compact ordering was moved into IROC with a dedicated compact module specifically created to assist states with compact ordering.

A significant portion of the SACC workload is in support of the southern states. In 2021, the southern states reported more than 20,400 fires that burned nearly 411,000 acres. SACC processed almost 3,000 resource orders on their behalf. 2022 is shaping up to be a much busier year than last, with SACC already having processed over 7,700 resource orders in support of the southern states as of May 26. The staff at SACC continues to strive to serve the southern states and all their interagency partners with the best service possible.

To learn more about SACC and geographic wildfire response, please visit the Southern Area Coordination Center website.

Photo: Division of Forestry – Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet