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258 Posts authored by: michelesteinberg Employee

For more than a decade, federal and state agencies, local governments, and nonprofit advocates of wildfire safety have been working to get their arms around the magnitude and scope of wildfire risk in the U.S. The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy includes protecting homes and communities as one of its three main objectives. Yet prior decades of research had largely ignored aspects of community risk in favor of a focus on managing vegetation and landscapes rather than people and property. 

 

This year, however, the public can benefit from the results of recent work to combine what we know about the science of home ignition with the known information about wildfire spread and community vulnerability. I talk about why I think the new Wildfire Risk to Communities platform is so incredibly valuable in the current issue of NFPA Journal. In addition to my thorough admiration for the accomplishment of agencies and their partners in bringing this resource to the public within two years of a Congressional directive, I found the risk information on the platform to be presented in an attractive, easy-to-use, and compelling manner. It is a giant step forward in helping community leaders justify and advocate for improved wildfire planning and safety. 

 

-Follow me on Twitter @Michele_NFPA for more information about wildfire safety resources!

Handing Firewise USA recognition sign to recipientAs wildfires ignite landscapes and communities during this active fire year, interest in community action to improve wildfire safety is at an all-time high. Folks are seeking out the Firewise USA recognition program in greater numbers than ever before, with hundreds of new sites in the process of having their applications approved. This is great news, but when articles come out that a new site has met the criteria, the headlines often say that the community has become “Firewise-certified” or “earned their certification from Firewise.”

 

What’s in a name? And why doesn’t “recognition” smell as sweet to copy editors as “certification?” Often, the brief articles I see celebrating a community’s hard work to become safer from wildfire will use NFPA’s information about Firewise verbatim, and will talk about the community being recognized for its efforts, even when the headline says “certified.” All this would be simply a fussy English major’s headache, if it weren’t for the real concern our program team has about what “certification” and “certified” imply.

 

A quick web search showed a pretty consistent pattern that certification applies most often to people, not to groups, and implies a high professional standard of achievement that allows an individual to access a certain job role or professional qualification. Certified accountants come to mind. One of the few certifications I found applying to an organization had to do with the ability of organizations to access specific government funding. And of course, NFPA develops and provides certifications of various kinds to help fire inspectors, electricians, and others demonstrate technical competency in their fields.

 

NFPA’s national recognition of neighborhoods where residents organize and follow guidelines to become safer from wildfire doesn’t apply to individuals (and certainly not individual homes). Yes, there are criteria that have to be met, but they are fairly flexible and are intended to encourage people living in high-risk areas to get started on a years-long, community-wide journey toward greater safety. Unlike a certification, Firewise USA recognition is not an end-point, nor the end-all-and-be-all of wildfire safety.

 

The more we see “certified” and “certification” being tossed around in articles and online conversation, the more the perception of Firewise USA seems to become warped and conflated with individual homes meeting some mythical standard of safety or insurability. This perception is understandable, especially in California, where more and more people living in high-risk areas have experienced insurance rate increases or have had to shop for insurance when their carrier declines to continue covering their property. However, we simply can’t claim that any given property is safer or its risk has been reduced just because the minimum community-wide criteria have been met on a voluntary basis. While we’ve seen positive effects on overall community safety over time, Firewise recognition is not a magic wand we wave to make a home with a flammable roof and overgrown vegetation safe from wildfire. Recognition is our encouragement and acknowledgment that communities have taken the first steps toward safety, and toward a sustained effort to change the results when wildfire strikes.

 

Photo: Community members presented with Firewise USA Recognition sign, NFPA.

slide clip from webinar on wildfires and insuranceThe ripple effects of the record-breaking property losses in California due to wildfires in 2017 and 2018 are still being felt as survivors work to rebuild their homes, local governments scramble to help recover needed housing and property taxes, and insurance companies consider how to best spread the risk in a state where an estimated 4.46 million homes – a third of state inventory - are vulnerable to the threat of wildfire.

 

The good news is that most homeowners carry insurance, and nearly every homeowner policy across the industry covers damages and losses from fire – including wildfire. Insurance companies play a major role when disasters strike in helping customers in the immediate aftermath with living expenses incurred when their homes are destroyed and in the long term of rebuilding. The bad news is that two-thirds of Americans typically are underinsured, and this gap could seriously hurt their chances of rebuilding their lives after a disaster. Following the disastrous 2017 and 2018 wildfire events in California, insurers helped many people recover. But one unfortunate ripple effect of those wildfire disasters is that insurers are reviewing their portfolios, raising rates in some areas, or choosing not to renew policies for customers who are in high-risk areas.

 

State regulators via Departments of Insurance are charged with oversight of insurance companies doing business in their states, with the goal of keeping insurance affordable and available to all consumers. After all, property insurance is a requirement of federally-backed mortgages and home loans and is the crucial financial safety net that allows people to rebuild their lives after a major catastrophe.

 

The fallout from the major recent wildfire losses has included competing legislative bills that seek to protect consumers from the impacts of rising insurance costs and to give relief to Californians who lost everything to wildfire. Insurers want to continue to do business in the state but need to be able to charge rates that reflect the risk. The Stronger California Coalition lays out the facts and myths surrounding some of the competing legislative priorities that are getting a lot of attention currently.

 

What can Californians do now to keep their homes insured and insurable? NFPA’s recent webinar on financial preparedness for wildfire includes the following tips:

  • Recognize that it’s not just wildfire risk that determines your insurability and rates – age of home, quality of construction, and loss history are also taken into account.
  • Not all insurers use the same guidelines -- they have competitive differences. This gives you choices – shop around.
  • Participate in local wildfire safety activities, whether via Fire Safe Councils, Fire Adapted Community programs, or NFPA’s Firewise USA recognition program. Not every insurer will take these efforts into account in their underwriting decisions, but many do look favorably on community wildfire risk reduction activities.
  • Make sure you know what’s covered in your policy, and have your deductible in your savings.
  • Talk to your agent to make sure you have enough coverage to replace your home and contents.
  • Make and update a home inventory of your belongings.
  • Ask your agent for an insurance checkup each year and update your policy if needed.
  • If your insurer declines to renew your policy, ask if there is something you can do to reduce your risk and keep your policy; and shop and compare insurance with a local broker.
  • If you have loved ones who have paid off their homes, make sure they are carrying property insurance.
  • Finally, if you believe you are being treated unfairly, contact the Department of Insurance.

USAA members who carry homeowners insurance policies in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming join their counterparts in seven other states where living in a recognized Firewise USA site makes them eligible for an insurance premium discount.

 

**UPDATE July 28, 2020**  According to USAA, there has been an unforeseen delay in the effective date for policies in Washington state. We'll update when this has been resolved.

 

NFPA and USAA announced the addition of the discount in these states in a press release on July 27. USAA, which provides a full range of financial products and services to the military community and their families, began exploring incentives to create safer communities from wildfire with NFPA nearly a decade ago and first initiated the discount for members in Firewise USA sites in 2014. The discounts become effective on different dates per state through August and are applied automatically to eligible members when their insurance policy renews.

 

The 11 states where USAA makes the discount available (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) represent two-thirds of participation in the Firewise USA recognition program nationally. More than 800,000 people live in Firewise USA sites in these states, where they collaborate on a volunteer basis to reduce the wildfire risk to more than 380,000 homes.


Visit www.firewise.org to learn more about the recognition program benefits, including this incentive for members of USAA.

As the COVID-19 pandemic reached all parts of the globe earlier this year, necessitating strict social distancing and hygiene requirements, first responders were some of the first groups to have to rethink how to safely serve the public and achieve their missions. Among these groups are wildland firefighters, land managers, and others who work in wildfire around the world. As potential impacts became clear to the wildland fire management community, a team of researchers jumped into action to compile all the different types of strategies and advice in this arena, by reviewing existing materials and conducting a worldwide survey.

 

A collaborative effort spearheaded by Dr. Cathelijne Stoof of Wageningen University in the Netherlands along with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the American Wildfire Experience, and the International Association of Wildland Fire published the first in an expected series of briefs based on their review of materials and the global survey. Findings range from firefighter health and safety concerns to the issue of safely evacuating and temporarily housing residential populations, to the need to reduce wildfire starts through prevention activities.

 

Nearly 350 people filled out the survey in just over two weeks, with the majority (45%) from the United States but also representing 25 other nations. They represented a variety of jurisdictional levels and functions, though most worked at national or state/provincial agencies. Lessons learned already appear in the materials and survey, as wildfires have already necessitated management and response in Western Europe and North America.

 

The easy-to-read brief is free to access at Wageningen University’s website as a PDF document. The continuing study will issue more briefs over the coming weeks.

With more and more amazing wildfire risk reduction and preparedness happening across the country, it’s only fitting that the partners establishing the Wildfire Mitigation Awards are opening the nominations process early! Starting today, June 1, you can nominate an outstanding individual, group, or organization that continuously demonstrates exceptional wildfire risk reduction achievements to receive this honor in 2021.


Established in 2014, in response to an overwhelming number of great wildfire mitigation program efforts across the nation, the national Wildfire Mitigation Awards program recognizes outstanding work and significaWFMA logont program impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

 

The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are jointly 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.

 

These awards are designed to recognize effective community wildfire adaptation and risk reduction efforts by individuals and organizations. A wide range of efforts are recognized, such as the creation of local mitigation coalitions, community wildfire protection plans, community-wide risk assessments, reducing home ignition risks, hazardous fuel treatments, fire department engagement in wildfire risk reduction, and use of codes and ordinances. The award sponsors seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation efforts.

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Submit a nomination and view the nomination guidelines and selection criteria here on NASF’s website. The criteria are also attached to this blog post.

 

 

Have questions? Please contact Meghan Marklewitz at meghan@iafc.org or (703) 896-4839.

How do you solve a wicked problem? That was the question I posed to a classroom of MIT undergrads during an early-April virtual class taught by my friend Cherie Miot Abbanat, a lecturer at the university’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning. Cherie’s spring semester is focused on exploring policy and planning solutions to real-world environmental and social problems – including what I call the “wicked problem” of wildfire disasters. If I’d ever worried that I’d make people depressed talking about my favorite subject, it was nice to know that my lecture was helping them focus on something NOT virus-related.

 

Barely a month after I’d characterized the wildfire disaster problem as a wicked problem – something multi-causal, socially complex, and with impacts and solutions that don’t fit neatly into one or two disciplines – to a diverse group of experts at the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s WUI Resilience Workshop in San Francisco, I was posing this question to curious and clever college students from the comfort of my home office. Although the MIT campus is just a few miles from my Boston-area home, the students come from all over, including wildfire hotspots as far-flung as southern California and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

 

We discussed the current policy context, including policies driving federal and state land management and natural resources protection, the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, and the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. After providing some basics on how the US manages fire, we talked about the growing magnitude of wildfire disasters – incidents where wildfires move from forests and rangelands into subdivisions and towns, creating enormous property loss, and increased loss of life. We discussed what’s missing from the policy context – with one major element the lack of wildfire risk analysis in local land use plans, and the failure to address wildfire in most local and state building codes and ordinances.

 

Questions ranged from the challenges (and failures) of a response-oriented approach, to what places are doing better with building codes and land use planning, to the need for more education of planning professionals and local government officials. I was encouraged by the engagement of these young people, who will be our future policymakers, designers, architects, planners, enforcers, and leaders. As always, I am grateful to Cherie and her counterparts at other universities for giving me a chance to interact with these amazing young people. Our wicked, gnarly, nasty problem of wildfire disasters can be solved, and the beginning of that solution is grappling with the problem in a learning mindset.

 

Image credit: Fire Modeling Institute of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station - using FAMWEB ICS 209 databases, June 2017

Resilience docTomorrow, May 2, marks the 7th annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day celebrated in the U.S. and Canada, but 2020’s observance of the day will be quite different than in years past. Due to important safety precautions to limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus, group activities are off-limits to most of us right now.

 

Happily, many staunch and dedicated wildfire safety advocates – neighborhood groups, Fire Safe Councils, state forestry agencies, state fire marshals, and more – have come up with creative ways to inform and educate residents on what they can do right now, at home, to reduce wildfire risks.

 

A quick search around the internet reveals recommendations, tools, virtual meetings, and more, all the way from Florida to the Canadian Yukon. Whether you choose to engage on May 2 or spread the Prep Day love out across the summer and fall, here are some great ideas from across North America to inspire you and to help keep wildfire safety top of mind:

 

 

Got more ideas and inspiration? Let us know in the comments below, or share on NFPA's Firewise Facebook Page or on Twitter by tagging @Firewise and using #wildfireprepday in your post.

Within just the last few weeks, our world has changed dramatically. New federal guidelines have appeared to combat COVID-19, the deadly and contagious coronavirus. Governors of many states have banned large gatherings, advising weeks or months of shelter-in-place, and mandating the closure of all but essential businesses. All Americans have had to rethink how we behave, plan and adjust to this new reality.

 

If you've been planning to participate in Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 2, or to conduct your local Firewise meetings or implement group risk reduction projects, you may be wondering how to make wildfire safety mesh with virus safety. Fortunately, there are many things people can do as individuals or family units immediately around their properties that make a real difference in wildfire risk reduction. We've developed a new "project ideas" page to give you examples.

While sheltering in our homes, there's also a lot we can do to educate ourselves and share educational resources with others. Back on March 20, NFPA and State Farm shared our message to stay safe and simply do wildfire preparedness events in groups only when it's safe to do so - even if that's months from now. A great thing you can do - and many have already done - is to share this key information by email, social media or in virtual meetings you hold with your neighbors and friends. Organizations like the Texas A&M Forest Service, and the Lake Plymouth Firewise Community in New Jersey have shared these key messages on Facebook. The Lakeland District for the Florida Forest Service is sharing helpful Twitter posts with the hashtag #WPFromHome to encourage risk reduction in Home Ignition Zones. We've got some creative social media post suggestions for you with key links and images right on our web pages.

 

Be safe, be well, and be creative - and feel free to share your solutions to achieving wildfire risk reduction in the midst of an unprecedented global event!

 

Follow me for more Firewise and wildfire preparedness information on Twitter @Michele_NFPA

NFPA and State Farm are committed to safety from wildfire, but we’re also concerned for your personal and family safety, and the safety of your community in the face of the coronavirus threat. We created the annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day campaign as a way to rally people around the cause of wildfire safety and to turn ideas into action that can make a difference. But, we’re facing a global public health threat today, and we realize that COVID-19 may be preventing you from meeting to carry out your plans or to do the activities you would normally do together, now and on May 2.

 

NFPA and State Farm urge everyone not to feel pressured to have gatherings or events that may compromise public health at this time; we support efforts to postpone your event and planning activities until the end of the year or such time that it is safe to do so.

 

In place of in-person events, NFPA and State Farm suggest conducting activities you can do from home and still help raise awareness of wildfire safety such as posting and sharing Facebook and Twitter messages and tips with others in your community. Other home activities include:

  • Raking and removing pine needles and dry leaves within a minimum of 3 to 5 feet of a home’s foundation. As time permits – continue up to a 30-foot distance around the home. Dispose of collected debris in appropriate trash receptacles.
  • Cleaning pine needles from roof and gutters and paying attention to maintaining the home ignition zone.
  • Getting out your measuring tape and seeing how close wood piles are located to the home. If closer than 30 feet, they need to be relocated and moved at least 30’ away from structures.
  • Sweeping porches and decks clearing them of leaves and pine needles. Raking under decks, porches, sheds and play structures.
  • Mowing grasses to a height of four inches or less.
  • Removing items stored under decks and porches and relocating them to a storage shed, garage, or basement. Gasoline cans and portable propane tanks should never be stored indoors and should be located away from the home.

Find these NFPA resources and more on our website. Please contact us if you have any questions or need additional information regarding Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

 

In the meantime, as we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Wildfire Prep Day

Individuals and organizations from across the nation applied for Wildfire Community Preparedness Day awards to help them complete a risk reduction project on Saturday, May 2, 2020. Thanks to the seventh year of generous support from State Farm, 150 applicants in 26 states are due to receive $500 project awards to help create neighborhoods safer from wildfires.

 

NFPA started the national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day campaign in 2014 as a way for people living in areas of wildfire risk to come together to improve their readiness across the community. In some cases, people are taking their very first steps on the first Saturday in May toward a safer future. Others are using the day as a rallying point for their ongoing efforts as a recognized Firewise USA site, or to implement their Community Wildfire Protection Plans. May 2 is a great time to get started on the road to wildfire risk reduction!

 

Will your home and neighborhood survive the next wildfire?  Find out how you can be a winner and encourage others to be a part of this national campaign this spring. 

Kate Cotter, CEO of Bushfire Building Council of Australia, conducts a home inspection

The March/April issue of NFPA Journal includes a Perspectives piece on wildfire risk reduction by Jesse Roman. Wondering if Australia's historic bushfire (wildfire) season will be a catalyst for change, he spoke to Kate Cotter, founder and director of the Bushfire Building Council of Australia. Cotter\s organization is working on a tool to quantify and rate individual property wildfire risk to help homeowners reduce their risk before the next fire happens.

 

The interview covers Cotter's view of the Australian mindset and how it's changed in the wake of fires that affected the entire nation, and outlines her plan to help Australians quickly and effectively learn about wildfire risk before purchasing or building homes, and what they can do to reduce risk on existing homes. Read the full story online to learn more! 

The Bureau of Land Management, part of the US Department of Interior, has issued notices of funding opportunities for Alaska and Wyoming. These Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Community Fire Assistance funds are available to eligible entities including state and local governments, tribal governments, institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations.

 

According to the grant announcements, the grant program uses a risk-based approach that supports the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy goals of restoring and maintaining Fire Resilient Landscapes, Creating Fire Adapted Communities and Responding to Wildfire. Program goals include:

  1. Accomplish Hazardous Fuels Reduction Activities by reducing wildland fuels on the landscape or making structural and landscape modifications to create survivable space;
  2. Develop and implement fire education, training, and/or community action plans/programs to include mitigation and prevention, planning or zoning ordinances and education around managing combustible vegetation, and prevention of structural ignition;
  3. Conduct Community Wildfire Protection Assessment and planning activities or develop an maintain a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP);
  4. Expand community capability to enhance local employment opportunities;
  5. Develop and implement short and long term Monitoring and Maintenance Plans for Hazardous Fuels Reduction, b) Community Fire Education and Training, and/or Community Action Programs.

 

Each state has a separate announcement and deadline. Applications from Alaska are due March 30, 2020 while applications from Wyoming are due May 30, 2020. Need ideas for projects? Be sure to visit NFPA's Wildfire Community Preparedness Day page for tips, and review details on how to prepare homes to resist ignition from wildfire. Follow me on Twitter! @Michele_NFPA

Could you use a little financial help for a  Wildfire Community Preparedness Day project?  Don't delay, apply today!  Get funding for a project or event on May 2 during NFPA's national campaign, thanks to generous support from State Farm. The application period for $500 project awards closes in just one week, on Friday, February 28, 2020.

What can you do with $500? Use it to do a project or put on an event on May 2 where residents can work together on wildfire safety. Participation helps create a sense of community, where neighbors begin to look out for each other.  Wildfire Community Preparedness Day projects can also help strengthen relationships between residents and the local fire department, land management agencies, community leaders and elected officials.


NFPA has provided many resources to help you get started and be successful. Start with the new Wildfire Community Preparedness Day Toolkit! From picking a project to tracking progress and promoting the event, the toolkit provides a number of great resources to guide you through the process and your journey to wildfire preparedness.  

Register now for NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire two-day classroom training in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 12-13. This class will provide valuable skills and knowledge to help you in your wildfire safety mission.

 

Nevada, California,  and other western states have experienced large, destructive wildfires in the past few years that have led to thousands of destroyed homes and businesses. The time is NOW for fire service, facility managers, and insurance and realty professionals to learn how to identify and prevent ignition risks to homes. 


Learn the science behind how homes ignite from wildfire. More importantly, find out the best ways to advise property owners about actions that will help prevent ignition and reduce the chances of home destruction during a brush or forest fire. 

 

Discover what others have learned. According to one captain/paramedic, “I thought I wanted to learn about structure triage. What I got was a new mindset concerning how to approach wildland fire (operational) and people (social).”

Another fire captain commented, “I am better prepared to assess WUI properties and communicate hazards to community members.”

 

Don't delay - register today and join your colleagues and expert instructor in Las Vegas!  

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