On September 11, NFPA, the University of California at Riverside and San Diego and the Western Governors’ Association, in conjunction with the Hazards Caucus Alliance, participated in panel discussion at a Capitol Hill briefing about the U.S. wildfire problem. NFPA’s Michele Steinberg was joined by Laura Wilkeson from the Western Governors’ Association, Dr. Richard Minnich from UC Riverside and Dr. Ilkay Altintas from UC San Diego.
In front of a packed room, the panel provided a lot of great information around a handful of hotly debated topics like wildfire policy, science, mitigation and response. Dr. Altintas presented on the National Science Foundation-funded WIFIRE project, which involves the creation of cyberinfrastructure for real-time and data-driven simulation, prediction and visualization of wildfire behavior. According to Dr. Altintas, the lack of up-to-the-minute information limits the speed and effectiveness of fire response. Better infrastructure for real-time data would not only help first responders to attack the fire early, but also manage public information and expectations of fire management and evacuation orders.
Ms. Wilkeson provided an overview of the current WGA wildfire policy, including the many efforts and effective state wildfire mitigation and containment practices that are being used. Ms. Wilkeson emphasized the need for state level participation in fire policy and spoke to the impact of federal land management policy in the west, where the majority of lands are federal property.
Dr. Richard Minnich, an expert in the ecology of wildfire at UC Riverside spoke about the environmental conditions and land management practices that influence the size, spread and destructive effects of wildfires. Dr. Minnich illustrated the significant differences in forest management between southern California and the Mexican Bajan peninsula. In Mexico, many more fires occur annually, but they tend to stay small and cause less harm to both people and the ecosystem.
Ms. Steinberg’s presentation covered NFPA’s mission with relation to wildfire safety. She emphasized that the problem of homes burning in wildfires was not just a California problem, nor exclusively a Western problem. She discussed NFPA’s relevant resources including codes and standards, research, and community engagement through the Firewise program. She closed with an update of how property/casualty insurers, including USAA and State Farm, are promoting Firewise principles through incentives including policy premium discounts and support of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.
The evening before the briefing, Congressional staff and others also attended a reception at the National Building Museum and toured the Museum’s Designing for Disaster exhibit. NFPA co-sponsored this special exhibit, which runs through August 2015 and explores new solutions for, and historical responses to, a range of natural hazards including earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes storm surge, flooding, sea level rise, tsunamis and wildfires. Harriet Tregoning, Director of HUD's Office of Economic Resilience, spoke to the group about the Administration’s resilience initiatives including the recent Rebuild By Design competition and a soon-to-be-funded National Disaster Resilience Competition.
More information about NFPA’s role in the Designing for Disaster exhibit can be found on our website. You can also find what is happening across the wildfire arena in NFPA’s Fire Break blog or by clicking on the panel organizations’ links above, to get an in depth look at their projects.