Creating a Local Copy

The National Incident Feature Services (NIFS) are designed to be used on fires and incidents of any size. This will help with streamlining data sharing, quick deployment of ArcGIS Online and Collector, and transitioning between teams. This service is hosted in the NIFC ArcGIS Online Organization (NIFC Org). As hosted data, it can easily be shared near real time with fire personnel at any time or location.

Editing the NIFS is essential to the role of a GISS. This is accomplished primarily through the use of Local Copies. A Local Copy is a downloaded subset of data from the NIFS which can be edited like a regular geodatabase and then synced back to the service to apply the changes.

Even though it allows for multiple simultaneous editors, a Feature Service and Local Copy edits have none of the conflict protection or resolution capabilities of a truly versioned environment. Great care must be taken not to overwrite other user data.

Best practices for editing the NIFS include:

  • Only ever download and/or edit an incident you are assigned to.
  • Keep Local Copies only as long as necessary to make edits.
  • If there are multiple editors, establish clear geographic boundaries and communicate frequently.
  • Educate field collectors on editing conflicts and coordinate their assignments to avoid them.

For examples of conflicts and GISS Watch-Out situations, see the section Offline-Editing Conflict Resolution in the National Incident Feature Services and Hosted Feature Services.


Because Pro has two-way sync capability, remember to always sync before starting an edit session to pull in the most recent data. Otherwise, the data on the map is as old as your last sync.

Create a Local Copy with ArcGIS Pro – Basic workflow to connect to the Hosted GISS Edit Service and download a Local Copy.

  1. Sign into your NIFC AGOL account in ArcGIS Pro.
  2. Add the GISS Edit layer to the Map:
    1. Option 1:  From the Catalog window
      1. Click on Portal then the blank cloud icon for All Portal.
      2. Enter the service name in the search bar:  "HOSTED GISS Edit 2020"
        Using quotes will further limit the search results.
        ArcGIS Pro Catalog pane searching for "HOSTED GISS Edit 2020" under Portal
      3. Find the service in the results.  Hovering will display additional information.  The NIFS layers are all owned by the NIFC_Authoritative user.  Right-click and select Add to Current Map.
        Hosted GISS Edit 2020 service details shown in hover pop-up
        Add Hosted GISS Edit 2020 to the current map by right clicking on the feature and selection "Add To Current Map"
    2. Option 2:  Add the GISS Edit service by URL with Add Data from Path.
      1. On the Map ribbon tab, open the Add Data dropdown and select Add Data from Path.
        Add "Data from Path" by selecting "Add Data" and then section "Data From Path" in ArcPro
      2. Copy/paste the URL path to the NIFC AGOL Hosted GISS Edit 2020 into the dialogue box.
        Both the NIFC Org item page URL and the REST URL will work:
  3. Create a Local Copy
    In Pro, feature services can be edited directly. This is a good option for minor edits, but a Local Copy will still be needed to create the Master Incident GDB. For best editing performance, avoid editing services directly and create a Local Copy. 
    1. Zoom into the incident area and click Download Map on the Map ribbon. There should be a triangle in Event Polygon, auto generated from IRWIN data for every new incident, that can be used as a starting point. It will already contain the correct IRWIN and Incident IDs.

The Download Map button highlighted on the ribbon with an autogenerated triangle perimeter in the extent.


  1. Once the download is complete, change the Contents pane to List by Data Source and confirm that the source for Event_GISSEdit is now a local GDB.

Contents pane on Data Source view with the local copy created from the GISS Edit service highlighted

  1. The Local Copy will be automatically created in the Home folder (which is set to the main incident folder). Do not move or rename it.
    If preferred, the download location can be set to prompt each time or the default location can be updated to the incident_data\edit folder in the project settings.

ArcGIS Pro Options window on the Share and Download tab with the Offline Maps settings highlighted

Note:  The Local Copy is not a File GDB. It is a Mobile Geodatabase (aka Runtime GDB). ArcGIS Pro works natively with this format. However, its capabilities are limited, and it will need to be converted to a File GDB for backups and use as the Master Incident GDB.
For more information on how to convert to a File GDB, see the document Converting Runtime GDBs to File GDBs.

  1. The Event_GISSEdit layer with display turned off and the Event Group Layer File with broken data sources both highlighted in the Table of Contents. To use the standard Event symbology instead of the simplified symbols of the service for editing, repair the path of the Event Group Layer Point Labels Defined to point to the newly created Local Copy.
    The Hosted GISS Edit 2020 group layer can be turned off or removed.
  2. Unlike in ArcMap, a Local Copy in Pro can sync with the service more than once. There is no need to create a new one each time.
    For more information on working with a Local Copy in ArcGIS Pro, see the document How To Edit a Feature Service in ArcGIS Pro.

The Sync button highlighted.

Starting just after creating the Edit Project:

  1. Create a new map from the Insert tab on the Ribbon and rename it DownloadMap_2020_{IncidentName}.

    If you will be working with more than one area offline, use a name that identifies which area this is (eg. divZ_download or nwSpot_download).

New Map button highlighted on the Insert ribbon tabMap Name highlighted in the Table of Contents

NOTE: When working with multiple areas offline, make sure there is no overlap of features or you risk accidental deletions and data overwrites.

  1. Add the HOSTED GISS Edit 2020 service from the NIFC Org Portal.

Add Hosted GISS Edit 2020 to the current map by right clicking on the feature and selection "Add To Current Map"


  1. Zoom to the AOI and create a Local Copy using the Download Map function.

Download button highlighted for the Download Map option on the ribbon.

The Local Copy (a mobile gdb) will be automatically created in the Home Folder (which is the incident folder when using the Pro Project Template). Do not move or rename it.

Local Copy geodatabase shown in the project Home folder.

  1. Open the edit map again and repair the data paths to the Local Copy features.

The Local Copy geodatabase shown selected in the Change Data Source window

  1. Configure Feature Templates and save a backup layer file to the incident_data\edit folder.

    TIP:  With this configuration, it is possible to have multiple Download Maps of multiple areas of the fire (or multiple fires in a complex) and still do all the editing in a single map view by bringing in each Local Copy with the Edit Layer File. You can even then sync them all at the same time from the edit map view.

    Beware of using the Edit Layer File while the very first Local Copy still exists as it will point directly to it until it is deleted (i.e., not add with broken links to be set).

  2. After making the necessary edits, use the Sync button to push the edits to the NIFS and pull down any changes.


The Sync button highlighted

NOTE:  Because the Pro Download Map is capable of two-way sync, the Local Copy will persist through as many syncs as needed. If a new Local Copy must be created (eg. new or larger area), be cognizant of what GDB is in the edit map view.

Add the NIFS and Configure Feature Templates in ArcGIS Pro

Please use the written documentation to add the 2020 GISS Edit service from AGOL. Do not use the EGP services. Start at 1:20 to review the configuration of the feature templates.



Add the Hosted GISS Edit 2020 Service

  1. From the Hosted GISS Edit 2020 item page in the NIFC Org, click the Open in ArcGIS Desktop option and select Open in ArcMap.
    Image of Open in Map Viewer menu with Open in ArcMap selected.
  2. Open the item.pitem file that downloads. ArcMap will open automatically, and the service will load to the contents.
    Box with item.pitem and open file showing.

Make a Local Copy of the Service

  1. Zoom to the area of your incident. Be sure to include all the features you might want to edit as only features in the current extent will be downloaded to the Local Copy.
  2. Try to avoid including features from other incidents. If features from another incident must be included to capture all the features needed for editing, do not edit or delete those features from your Local Copy (including field calculations). Deleting will remove them from the service when you sync, and editing may overwrite their own changes.
    An large incident shown in ArcMap with an imagery basemap
  3. From the List By Drawing Order tab in the Table of Contents, right-click the Group Layer. Under Edit Features, and select Create Local Copy for Editing.
    The ArcMap Table of Contents show with the menu tree to the Create Local Copy for Editing operation opened.
  4. By switching to the List by Source tab, we can see that the data in the mxd is now pointing to a local file geodatabase. Make note of the last 4 characters of the gdb name and the time of download, just in case there is an application crash.
    The complete file path to a Local Copy shown highlighted in the table of contents by hovering over the database
  5. You can now start an edit session and make all your desired edits to the Local Copy as you would any gdb.
  6. To synchronize the edits, return to the Table of Contents to the List by Drawing Order tab and right-click the Service group layer. Under Edit Features, select Synchronize Local Edits with server.
    The ArcMap Table of Contents show with the menu tree to the Synchronize Local Edits with Server operation opened.

    Note:  If you wish to discard your edits, select Disconnect Local Copy from server. This will not change the data in the MXD back to the Service.  It will still reference the local copy, which cannot be synced after disconnecting. If discarding a Local Copy, do not copy it to the incident_data folder.
  7. After the sync, by changing back to the Display by Source tab, you can see that you are now viewing the National Incident Service again in the MXD. It is best practice to now confirm that your edits have synced properly.
    The server URL highlighed on the Database View tab of the Table of Contents.
  8. Optionally: Once a Local Copy has been copied to the incident_data and incident_data\backups folders and the sync is completed, that gdb can be deleted from the FeatureServiceLocalEdits folder. There is no need to keep it as it cannot be synced again.  Any data that might need to be recovered from it is saved in the \backups folder with the much more usable GeoOps naming (see Update the Master Incident GDB).

Instructions on efficiently implementing a Local Copy in the Edit Project.

Starting from your Edit MXD after the Event_GISSEdit service has been added, zoomed to the AOI, and a Local Copy has been downloaded:

A small portion of an incident shown in ArcMap

  1. Add the Layer File Template (Event Group Layer Point Labels Defined.lyr).
    A small portion of an incident shown in ArcMap with the Event Group Layer layer file added to the table of contents.
  2. Repair the data paths to the Local Copy just created (the path can be found by hovering over it in the List by Source view of the Table of Contents).
    Hovering over the database in the table of contents to show the complete file path
    Setting the data source with Event Point selected.
  3. Turn off the original group layer GISS\Event_GISSEdit but do not remove it. 

    To make the layers easier to differentiate, add “Edit” or another marker to the names of the new group’s Event Features.
    2 group layers shown in the table of contents with one turned off
  4. Configure the Feature Templates.
    Clicking the Properties button in the Organize Feature Templates window with all Event Line - Edit templates selected.
  5. Save the Event Group Layer Point Labels Defined group as a new layer file under \incident_data\edit. This is how the configured Feature Templates are preserved and will be referred to as the Edit Layer File.
    The Save As Layer File action highlighted on the right-click menu for the Event Group Layer
  6. Make all the necessary data edits to the Event Group Layer Point Labels Defined group layers. Save and stop editing.
  7. Remove the Event Group Layer Point Labels Defined group.

    TIP:  You can leave this group in the map for the next Local Copy, but you MUST delete the current database out of the \FeatureServiceLocalEdits folder after syncing.  Otherwise, you will end up editing an old Local Copy and syncing nothing in the next session.  Then when the MXD is opened next, the links will be broken and ready to be set to the new Local Copy.
    The Remove action highlighted on the right-click menu for the Event Group Layer

  8. Synchronize your edits with the NIFS from the GISS\Event_GISSEdit group layer originally used to create the Local Copy.
    The right-click menu tree opened with Synchronize Local Edits with Server action highlighted
  9. Backup the Local Copy and replace the Master Incident GDB.

    NOTE: If this is the first Local Copy, or you have updated the Feature Templates and saved a new Edit Layer File, the original downloaded database in \Documents\ArcGIS\FeatureServiceLocalEdits must be deleted after it is backed up so that subsequent use of the Edit Layer File will no point to this out of date database. Subsequent Local Copies can be left in place.
  10. Repeat as necessary.
    Once the Edit Layer File has been saved the first time, use it instead of the Layer File Template to bring in the already configured Feature Templates.

Alternative Method

It is not required to use the layer file for the Edit MXD (because no incident maps will be made from this project).

A simpler method is to add the NIFS to your blank Edit MXD, create a Local Copy, and then configure the Feature Templates directly on those layers.

While the underlying data will switch between Local Copy and Feature Service with each sync and subsequent download, the Feature Templates will persist in the map allowing you to properly attribute your data during each edit session.

The limitation of this method is that the Event Features will use the simplified symbology of the service. This can be fixed by using Import Symbology to pull the standard symbols from the layer file, but this will not include the predefined label classes.

A backup layer file should still be saved after configuring the Feature Templates to be used if the Edit MXD must be rebuilt.



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