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Texas A&M Forest Service predictive services catalyst retires

Predictive Services Department Head Brad Smith points at a screen inside of the Texas A&M Forest Service Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the agency headquarters College Station on Wednesday, Jan 25, 2023. (Sam Craft/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas—After 42 years of service with Texas A&M Forest Service, Brad Smith, Predictive Services Department Head, retired Friday, January 12, 2024.

Smith played an integral role in the expansion of the agency’s fire response and predictive services capabilities by utilizing emerging prediction technology and strategic fire response location, setting precedents across the U.S.

“Brad has built an illustrious career as a well-respected voice in the wildland fire community of Texas and across the nation,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief. “His leadership and innovation have shaped more accurate fire forecasting in Texas and the Great Plains region, providing fire managers with the necessary information for strategic decisions to respond efficiently, which ultimately saves lives, homes and natural resources.”

Smith began his career with Texas A&M Forest Service in 1981 as a forester in Marshall, Texas, while also continuing to work seasonally for the U.S. Forest Service, after graduating from Stephen F. Austin University.

Smith’s time as a forester in Marshall was shared between forest management and fire suppression. Smith’s niche interest and growing expertise in fire suppression soon led him to Longview, Texas, where he would devote more time to strategic fire suppression planning.

Upon entering his new role in Longview, Smith quickly noted the small number of weather and fire predictive resources and technology available to the state. As a result, Smith recalled that much of the agency’s fire suppression efforts at the time expressed a more reactive approach rather than proactive.

With only three weather monitoring stations across the state at the time used for fire predictive services, Smith became a leader among the agency and state in establishing an expansion of weather stations, algorithms and protocols. Today, more than 150 stations are present state-wide which assist in modeling weather, dryness, precipitation and other fire environment conditions crucial in predictive services.

After major advancements in predictive technology expansion, Smith recognized room for more improvement. At the recommendation of Smith and other agency leaders in 2000, the agency established a predictive services department for Texas A&M Forest Service that would not only support the state’s fire and natural disaster response approach but inform many other states across the country.

In reflection of the monumental achievement of the predictive services achieved by the agency, Smith said, “Being on the ground early on in the development stages and execution has become a highlight of my time at the agency.”

The predictive technology and services were quickly put to the test during the major fire seasons of 2006 and 2011, notorious for producing the Bastrop County Complex. Throughout these fires, Smith played an instrumental role in establishing hand crews statewide that would allow for more efficient and effective on-the-ground response.

The accomplishments of Smith speak to the dedication of service he provided the agency, state and region through his innovative solutions. These accomplishments have left Smith with a sense of fulfillment and finality as he enters a new life chapter.

“I consider my time here as a career, not a job, because I have been engaged through the art and science of prediction,” said Smith. “My journey has spanned the entire state while building tools along the way.”

In his new status of retirement, Smith looks forward to spending time with his wife, sons, dogs and playing disc golf.

Texas A&M Forest Service expresses a heartfelt sense of gratitude to Smith for his time with the agency which will have impacts for decades to come.

“Brad’s contributions to the wildland fire service has left an enduring impact and helped to evolve the agency’s response operations,” Moorehead concluded.

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