Talking about wildfires and public health

Blog Post created by michelesteinberg Employee on May 1, 2019

As part of a panel talking about wildfires and public health, I had a great opportunity to talk to health and safety professionals on behalf of NFPA about wildfire and how we can use techniques that have emerged from public health and related social science research to help change behaviors and outcomes. 

My co-presenters, Ken Pimlott, retired chief of CAL FIRE, and Dr. Michael Gollner, a fire protection engineering professor at the University of Maryland, provided their expertise to describe the compelling situation of wildfire risk in California and around the country. CSPAN recorded our presentations and the lively discussion which followed. Key takeaways:

  • We are seeing more extreme wildfires
  • Thousands of homes already built are at high risk to wildfire
  • Planning, codes, and regulations are still very much needed for new development and rebuilding
  • There are things people at risk today can do to reduce their vulnerability

I was happy to share how NFPA has been using social science findings to inform our programs and outreach. Successful techniques have included education and messages that help move people from awareness to action, prompts and signage that help spread behavior change throughout neighborhoods, marketing social behavior change by removing barriers to action, and helping people find what's going right and doing more of it. Programs like Firewise USA and campaigns like Wildfire Community Preparedness Day have been adopted and used by thousands of people across the US as well as in other countries to empower residents to take effective risk reduction action.

Check out the CSPAN video to learn more about how to tackle the thorny health and safety issues presented by wildfire.

Video still shot links to a 2-minute clip of NFPA's Michele Steinberg speaking about the "98% problem" of already-existing homes at risk to wildfire on CSPAN2.