Remote Sensing and Emergency Management

Objective: Students will discover how remote sensing is used to help manage emergencies like the Oakland Hills Fire Storm 1991.

Time Duration: one class period with homework the night before

Grade level: 4-8

Concepts Explored: observing, comparing, communicating, organizing, relating and interpreting.

Curriculum Connections: Current events can be used as a tie into Social Studies here. How informed should citizens be about things that can effect them? In certain locations and landscapes there can be a high fire danger. The need to remove grass and overgrowth from backyards and vacant lots is the owner's responsibility, but, what is the responsibility of the media to communicate this need.

Vocabulary: firestorm, media, informed, fact, opinion, emergency, disaster

Groups: Students should work in groups of three or four


Per Student:

- Copies of news articles about the firestorm and other pertinent information

Advance Preparation:

Slides and news articles of the 1991 Firestorm would be helpful to have. NASA remote images of the firestorm should also be used. A slide projector will need to be set up. The teacher may wish to project news articles and pictures from books using an opaque projector or transparencies on an overhead projector.

Teacher Resources and Slides:

Slides or video of the Oakland Hills firestorm, NASA information and images of the same, articles on the firestorm that teacher needs to read ahead of time.

Teacher Tips:

Students need to be asked open-ended questions in order for this discussion and lesson to succeed. Students should read some articles about the Oakland fire before the discussion takes place.


1. Pass out articles and pictures of the Oakland Hills firestorm the night before the class discussion so that students can be prepared.

2. Before you begin the discussion, show the images of the Oakland Hills firestorm and read (or have the students read) the prose regarding the images.

3. Divide students into groups of three or four. Have students discuss the articles about how the fire progressed from a "hot spot" fire to the disaster that it turned into. Have them write down what the progression was.

4. At what point do you think NASA began to assist with the remote sensing images? Should they have been asked for their assistance earlier in the process or is that hindsight talking?

5. How can these images be used to help local, state, and federal government officials to manage emergencies?

6. How do the articles define the firestorm, which parts of the articles are fact and which part are opinion?

7. What measures could the City of Oakland take to prevent a similar emergency from occurring in the future? Have the students make a list of what they think can be done to prevent this from happening again.

8. What role did remote sensing and related technologies play in the management of the disasters?

9. Have students report out what their findings were.

10. Collect the groups' work for accountability and to see what they learned from the experience.


Look at the Yellowstone National Park fire of 1988. This appears in Chapter 3 of the Houghton-Mifflin history textbook entitled "America Will Be" in a section that talks about the difference between fact and opinion.

Compare the Oakland Hills firestorm with the Yellowstone fire.

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