The FIRE Project began in 1995 as a community service project staffed by volunteers from the Firetrench Consortium.

The Consortium began developing advanced information resources for military clients in the early 1970s.

By the late 1980s, work began to adapt this technology to produce advanced command, control, and information systems for civil Emergency Operations Centres.

Adapting military C4I2 and C4IR systems for civil use presented several challenges.

The first challenge was that civil government agencies had very tight budgets and were accustomed to buying untrusted commercial technology “off the peg” and trying to adapt their methods of working to the capabilities of the commercial information systems, rather than by using the military approach of issuing a functional specification and obtaining an advanced technology developed to that requirement.

There were also operational challenges. With a military or intelligence system, the user population is relatively small and is trained to operate in a single organizational culture with an established chain of command. Civil EOCs were to be staffed by personnel drawn from several different agencies, each with its own management culture, with a need to link to national government agencies and organizations that were based on volunteers, and even to link to organizations in other countries.

This group of people, from many different work backgrounds, presented a much larger user base and rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to train together, whereas a military organization had a strong training culture and system of manuals.

There were also several differences in the data patterns. For much of the time, very little data was brought into the EOC system, or exported, and overall use was very low. However, once an emergency had begun, or was anticipated (such as a hurricane warning), the system and the command centre had to bust into life and begin handling very large volumes of data from many different sources. There was also a need to allow external organizations to access much of the information, but a need for controlled access to avoid public panic – often, in an extreme emergency, as many casualties result from public panic, and the breakdown of civil order, as from the disaster itself.

The Consortium successfully adapted its military technology to civil EOC use and continues to maintain and upgrade existing installations.

In 1995 it was decided to experiment with the technology to produce public access information resources under the Consortium’s community service program, where Consortium members donate time and resources to projects of benefit to communities. The project was named Flexible Information Retrieval Environment Project, shortened to FIRE Project.

The hope was that it would prove possible to build an information resource that would employ artificial intelligence to assist a user to find the information that he or she required, without requiring any special knowledge.

This was a greater challenge because the user population was potentially enormous, representing every social and organizational culture in the world, and where the language, in which information was held, would be a second language for many users. Each user would also have a unique level of technical knowledge, requiring the system to be intuitive and to cater for the many different types of user.

After experimentation with a number of pilot systems, the first portal, Broadly Boats, opened to public access in April 2000.

From that point, additional portals were opened and a series of technical upgrades were completed towards the planned architecture for the on-line resource.

By 2007, the on-line system achieved the intended architectural form. That was not a completion of development work because this is a long term program and one which continues to evolve. The change of portal type for http://www.firetrench.com is an example of continuing improvements and modifications, often in response to user suggestions and requests.

Early in the project, it was decided that the information resource would provide portable information in addition to on-line information. To achieve this, the editorial team developed eNewsletters, eNewspapers, eMagazines and eBooks, pioneering technology in these areas. The Project volunteers also experimented and developed new ways of producing printed paper publications, including the publishing of two traditional paper books by creating electronic files that could be loaded directly into RIP computers that drove traditional four-colour printing presses.

Thank you for visiting a FIRE Project Portal. We hope you find your visit useful and enjoyable. We also hope that you will continue to support the Project by using the information it makes available. You may also chose to contribute to the development of this on-line information resource by contributing news and information.

FIRE Project Management Team

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