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2018

I participated in a very brief update from FEMA, which was mainly a question and answer period about FEMA’s new strategic plan.  This new plan is part of FEMA’s long range plan to help create a more resilient nation.  There are 3 main goals that are part of their new plan, 1. Build a culture of preparedness, 2. Ready the nation for catastrophic disasters, and 3. Reduce the complexity of FEMA. 

 

Each of these goals provide opportunity for feedback, which is how you can have a voice in helping FEMA craft these goals.

 

I was most interested in the preparedness component, the first goal listed in FEMA's plan.  I think, regarding this goal of building a culture of preparedness, many of our Firewise USA® sites and partnering agencies may have a lot of great insight to share with FEMA  about wildfire preparedness.  If you wish to comment you can send an email with your comments to, CultureOfPreparedness@fema.dhs.gov

 

FEMA further broke this preparedness goal down into four components. The first was to incentivize investments that reduce risk, including pre-disaster mitigation, and reduce disaster costs at all levels.  Next was close the insurance gap.  The final two were, third to help people prepare for disasters and finally better learn from past disasters, improve continuously and innovate.  For more information about FEMA’s new plan go to their website.

 

NFPA® wants to thank State Farm® for their generous support of the Wildfire Community Preparedness Day $500 awards.  This year one hundred fifty applicants were awarded funding.  Check out the NFPA's® Wildfire Prep Day page for information about who was awarded funding to complete a wildfire safety project on May 5th, Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. There are winners from 36 states from across the United States including Alaska and Hawaii. 

 

You can also check out the Wildfire Community Preparedness Day map to see if there is something going on where you live so that you can be a part of something bigger!  You don’t have to be awarded funding to get involved.  Everyone who participates on the day by taking action to complete some project work is contributing to creating safer neighborhoods and homes.  All participants and participating communities are winners.

 

Members of the Westwood, Massachusetts Fire Department shared last year’s success story with us, “We visited several homes to remove and dispose of brush that the homeowners had gathered from around their residences.  A few residents were physically unable to gather the brush, so we assisted with that as well.  The program enabled us to reduce ladder fuels, clear ignition zones, and create defensible spaces in areas of town that we feel are vulnerable to wildfire.  This project would not have been possible without the support of the NFPA® and State Farm®.  Thank you for all of your assistance, and we look forward to working with you again in the future.”

 

What will your winning story be?  We look forward to hearing about what you accomplish on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day at wildfireprepday@nfpa.org  or on the Firewise Facebook page!  Be a winner and get involved!

The Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network has posted a blog with a quiz about how to choose the best Wildfire Community Preparedness Day project for your community.  This is a great way to figure out how your community can get involved as we all work together to make a difference.

 

Engaging in a work project can really make a difference in the survive ability of your home and neighborhood.  Many times projects and basic maintenance tasks completed by individuals and communities have helped homes and neighborhoods survive wildfires.

 

We encourage you to take the quiz and to get involved and map your project on the Prep Day page.  We can all be a part of the wildfire safety solution by getting involved on May 5th.

Wildfire image shared by LA City Fire Department of the La Tuna Fire

Satellites are providing new data opportunities for scientists to study wildfires. The paper, Using Landsat Spectral Indices in Time-Series to Assess Wildfire Disturbance and Recovery, examines Landsat data for the past 40 years.  The paper states that because of the new advancements that have been made in analyzing the data, it has enabled them to better study wildfire disturbances as well as how some forests are able to recover after a wildfire has occurred.

 

It was also interesting to note that the scientists who wrote this paper acknowledged in their introduction, that studying wildfire must be a multidisciplinary approach and that human activities and cultures are a part of the global dynamics of wildfire.

 

The study area was public forest areas in the eastern part of the state of Victoria which is located in the South East of Australia.  They studied the effects of wildfires in the area from 2003 to 2016, including the devastating ‘Black Saturday Fires’ in 2009.  They also incorporated data from fire maps generated by the state of Victoria’s land management agency. The study looked at such things as post fire forest regrowth, and forest diversity (texture).  One interesting part of their study was the conclusion that a certain data set from the satellite images gave the most accurate information about the length of time it takes for (wetness indices) to recover, and even longer time required for forests to regain their biodiversity (textural variation).

 

This type of data will be valuable to forest managers including private forest managers as they develop long range maintenance and management plans with wildfire in mind.

 

Share with others across the nation what you are doing on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.  You and your community can not only share with others in your neighborhood what you are doing and encourage others to participate, but also connect with other communities participating on the day from across the nation.

 

It is easy to enter your information and a brief description about how you are a part of something big!  Once you submit your information, you will see your community on the Prep Day Map!

 

It is easy to get together and commit a couple of hours, or the entire day, and watch as your actions positively contribute to reducing your wildfire risk.  Challenge your family, friends, relatives, faith based group, or youth organization to develop a project and join others throughout the nation in making changes that make a difference.

 

In the world of wildfire risk reduction, it seems like we are always looking for another way to engage with our target audience - those residents living in or near the WUI. At the StormCenter Live Conference in San Antonio on March 3rd, I had the opportunity to speak to individuals that may prove to be useful partners in sharing wildfire messaging, broadcast meteorologists. These folks are trusted by their communities and have the ability to reach hundreds to thousands of people at one time.

 

Developed by broadcast meteorologist, for meteorologists, the conference is an opportunity to share the latest developments in forecasting, safety preparedness, extreme weather science, and best practices when dealing with extreme weather. Its mission is "to create content that educates, informs, prevent and alleviates human suffering in the face of extreme weather and disasters by mobilizing the power of media and working in partnerships with communities to create a more informed public." What an awesome idea!

 

I presented on the wildland fire issue - statistics from the last year and the shift we are seeing with fire as a year round event. I also focused on the relationship between embers and how homes burn, and steps people can take to reduce their risk. My goal was to expose the attendees to resources, tips, and tools they can share when forecasting conditions that influence wildland fire behavior.

 

In my previous work at a state forestry agency, we reached out to the major new channels before our typical fire season, but I'm not sure how much we tied in wildfire preparedness and mitigation to weather forecasts. Looking back, I wish we had pursued those opportunities more. We know that small actions in the HIZ can make a big difference. With a captive audience, meteorologists have a unique ability to slip in gentle reminders to "cut that grass" or "clean out those gutters" prior to a weather event, helping residents reduce the opportunity for embers to find a fuel source on or against their home.

 

I want to thank Alex Garcia, StormCenter Live, and Rob Galbraith, USAA, for giving NFPA the opportunity to speak at their event. Not only did I get to share about a topic near and dear to my heart, I got to learn from so many others. There was an excellent assortment of extreme weather presentations, including several related to hail, climate change, tornadoes, and severe storms, along with a really engaging session led by Gina Eosco on social science and communicating severe weather information.

 

Call to action:
Does your wildfire organization partner with its local news media to share wildfire threats and weather concerns? There's no time like the present to seek out those opportunities.

 

Top photo: courtesy Rob Galbraith, USAA

In the March/April NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I ask if we are kidding ourselves to think that voluntary risk reduction efforts can really make an impact.The answer is that we are not, but the criticism posed by some provides a healthy reflection for us on the necessary work ahead and the value of community engagement.

 

For some backstory, the American writer, Mark Twain, once said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” This quote takes on delightful meaning when you discover that, though credited in various articles and movies for the quote, he never said it.

 

It’s an example of a confirmation bias, when people want to believe something is true, so they just believe it to be a truth. When homes are lost in a wildfire, are our beliefs and risk reduction efforts an overconfidence in the face of “megafires” and ever lengthening fire seasons?

 

The column explores this challenge and offers how a more educated and empowered resident, working on their own risk, will have the understanding to better accept building practices and regulations we all need.

How we plan and manage evacuations of communities in the path of wildfire was discussed in a packed room at the WUI 2018 Conference last week. I have been a part of many conference sessions over the years and it was refreshing to see an audience so engaged and eager to explore an issue. The passion is there because it’s about people’s lives.

 

From the panel, Daniel Gorham, of the NFPA Research Foundation, presented the recently released, “e-Sanctuary” report that describes a novel framework for modeling wildfire urban evacuations. Dan explained how the report synthesizes the complex forecasting tools of fire spread, human behavior, and vehicle traffic modeling to illustrate how an evacuation would unfold in a given area throughout a risk. A tool that can combine these models is seen as a way to help communities identify challenges to evacuation, before smoke is in the air.

 

Boise Fire Department Capt. Jerry McAdams and Austin Fire Department Capt. Josh Anderson brought a implementing prospective to the room, explained the realities of evacuation from the department prospective, public perceptions, and municipal planning.

 

Chief Dave Driscoll, CAL FIRE, Ret., who moderated the panel discussion, got the room thinking about evacuation and how we plan for it as an event. He explained that an evacuation is a formula of time, distance, and volume of people, which can occur with spontaneous, immediate, or planned methods. It was great to see a room consider his question of when is something an evacuation and when is it a rescue. If it’s the latter, fire departments do evacuations every day, but how do they train for them?

 

Fire service members from California shared their challenges seen in evacuations from recent wildfires and asked whether a model framework can anticipate the public panic of human behavior in the moment. It is a good point to raise and the hope of any model is to identify community risks and reduce their impacts at time of evacuation, regardless of timing.

The good test of a conference session is if the audience wants it to go long, and they did, with the 20 minutes of audience discussion allotted spilling over 10 minutes more into the break. The issue of evacuation is a great challenge to residents and the fire service alike.

 

Read more about the “e-Sanctuary” report and share your thoughts on what is missing from our current understanding of community evacuation, especially when smoke is in the air.

 

Photo Credits: Lucian Deaton

 

During the Wildfire Mitigation Awards ceremony on February 28, held at the Wildland Urban Interface Conference in Reno, NV, nine recipients from five states were recognized for their exemplary work to reduce wildfire risks. The awards are sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the USDA Forest Service (USFS).

 

Established in 2014, the awards are the highest commendation for innovation and leadership displayed by individuals and organizations committed to wildfire mitigation.

 

Recognizing the comprehensive challenges posed by wildfires, these awards applaud the outstanding dedication to wildfire mitigation across a broad spectrum of activities and among a variety of individuals and organizations. By honoring their achievements, the award sponsors seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value and importance of wildfire mitigation efforts.

 

Recipients of the 2018 national Wildfire Mitigation Awards include:

  • Abby Watkins, Newaygo County Emergency Services, White Cloud, Michigan
  • Blue Mountain Forest Stewardship Initiative, Golden, Colorado
  • Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango, Colorado
  • Grizzly Flats Fire Safe Council, Grizzly Flats, California
  • Jeff Dunning, Allstate Insurance, Grass Valley, California
  • Jesse Cox, Trinity County Fire Safe Council, Weaverville, California
  • Pat McKelvey, Tri-County Firesafe Working Group, Helena, Montana
  • Project Wildfire, Deschutes County (Bend), OR
  • Rincon Fire Department, Valley Center, California

 

In addition to the nine mitigation awards, Christina Randall was posthumously awarded the National Legacy Award. Randall was the wildfire mitigation administrator for the City of Colorado Springs Fire Department, where she'd worked for fourteen years. Prior to CSFD, she worked for the USDA Forest Service in multiple roles for nineteen years.The award spotlighted her outstanding contributions to reducing wildfire risks in Colorado Springs and also through the many national wildfire committees she served on. CSFD’s Fire Marshal Brett Lacey accepted the award.

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