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Follow-up audit finds progress from Georgia Forestry Commission program

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(The Center Square) — The Georgia Forestry Commission Forest Protection program has progressed in better distributing wildland firefighting resources but needs more action in several areas, specifically its aviation resources.

That’s one of the findings in a July follow-up to a 2021 performance audit from the Georgia Department of Audits & Accounts.

The original audit found that while GFC collects data, there are opportunities to develop better management information. This included additional aviation data points, increased data integrity and leveraging the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment to assess the efficacy of mitigation activities and inform future mitigation planning.

“No changes have been made to the existing data system to increase aviation data integrity,” the audit found. “As stated in the original audit, ‘the internal data system GFC created to track flights allows needed data fields … to be left blank or entries in the wrong data fields.

“We also identified inconsistencies in the data, including flights deployed to suppress a wildfire with no corresponding water drops recorded,” the audit added.

While GFC has considered procuring an aviation-specific data system, the agency indicated in the audit that it would need to identify how to pay for the system and ongoing support.

GFC disagreed with the audit’s findings regarding its aviation resources. In a response included in the audit, “GFC indicated it believes its current, ‘internally developed system has performed well’ and will “sufficiently” meet its needs until an aviation-specific system can be purchased.”

GFC also expects to complete its statewide Wildfire Preparedness and Response Plan Standard Operating Procedures in fiscal year 2024.

The audit also found that GFC Forest Protection had partially addressed a recommendation to improve its distribution of wildland firefighting personnel with wildfire risk and workload.

In a response included in the audit, GFC Forest Protection said, “addressing personnel distribution is a major undertaking … that requires a strategic process and implementation.” However, it said it was committed to “addressing this finding in a way that drives the efficient allocation of resources while maintaining our wildfire/disaster response times, improving our service to stakeholders, and improving our cost structure.”

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