Lessons learned on wildfire communication and community initiatives

Isabeau Ottolini is a PhD candidate from the Open University of Catalonia (Spain) and the European project, PyroLife. She is researching Community-based Wildfire Communication, and has recently done her research stay at NFPA’s Wildfire Division. In this blogpost, she takes us along her visit across the USA, and shares lessons learnt on communicating about wildfires. Recently NFPA hosted me for a research stay to allow me to learn first-hand about community initiatives on wildfires, and specifically NFPA’s communication activities in the USA. I started my journey in California, with Bethany Hannah - founder of The Smokey Generation and the American Wildfire Experience. Together, we visited recent wildfire sites such as the 2021 Caldor Fire and the KNP Complex Fire; met the Division Chief of Prescribed Fire and Fuels at Yosemite National Park to learn how prescribed wildfire is used in one of USA’s most emblematic national parks; and observed the impact of the recent wildfires in the Sequoia National Park. At the IAWF Fire & Climate Conference in Pasadena, Bethany and I also presented together on Fire Stories: a case for Community-based Communication. Creating viewscapes across Yosemite with the help of prescribed burns. Photo: Isabeau Ottolini   In Colorado, Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan and Aron Anderson from NFPA’s Wildfire Division took me on field visits to Boulder and Colorado Springs. We visited the Sites of Excellence site, Red Rock Ranch, as well as diverse other Firewise and Wildfire Partners communities, to learn which wildfire prevention and mitigation activities are happening at the community level. We also visited diverse areas affected by wildfires in the past 30 years (from the Berry Fire in 1989, the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012, to the most recent Marshall Fire), to learn how ecosystems and communities are impacted and recovering after wildfire disaster. Lastly, I had the great opportunity to present her research at the NFPA C&E in Boston. Here I shared Lessons from the US and Europe on Wildfire Communication with Communities at Risk. During my last days in the US, I partook in the day-to-day of the NFPA office, and together with Michele Steinberg visited a recent wildfire-affected area in the Blue Hills as well as the Six Ponds Firewise community in Plymouth. Lessons learned On my visit, I crossed the USA from west to east, observing very different fire landscapes and being inspired by many great community-based wildfire initiatives – including Firewise, the Sites of Excellence, Fire Adapted Communities, and Wildfire Partners – that make wildfire mitigation and prevention possible on the community level. Here are four lessons on how to communicate about wildfires and support community-based wildfire initiatives. There are no silver bullets nor quick fixes to prevent and mitigate wildfires. Wildfire communication needs to be adapted to local contexts, and this requires actively engaging with communities, listening to them, and reading the room. For instance, if a community has just lost homes to a wildfire, it is likely not the best time to talk about good fire. As wildfire communicators, we need to meet people where they are at. Take the time to first learn about their needs, knowledge, and interests, and then jointly develop wildfire actions that are most feasible, relevant and rewarding for each community. Sharing responsibility: the wildfire issue is too big to be addressed only by certain groups, like the fire service or public administrations. Experience shows that community-led initiatives can achieve so much in mitigating and preventing wildfire disasters, so it is crucial to involve and empower them to take action. In addition, recognizing and celebrating community achievements helps maintain motivation, such as by making visible their efforts (e.g. by putting up Firewise signs, sharing success stories in the media, etc.) as well as providing support (e.g. how to get grants for fuel reduction efforts). Lastly, it is essential to build trust and mutually beneficial relationships between communities, fire departments, public administrations, etc. Especially in informal settings, people can genuinely listen to each other, understand each other's challenges, find ways to help one other, and build great collaborations. Because at the end of the day it is all about building this human connection and working together on creating a more hopeful wildfire future.
People putting debris in the chipper

“Sites of Excellence” Pilot Program and Report Highlight Challenges, Best Practices, and Recommendations for Firewise USA Sites

In 2019, NFPA began working with seven active Firewise USA® sites in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, challenging them to improve their resilience to wildfire. These efforts formed the basis of a two-year pilot program, “Sites of Excellence,” designed to increase participation in active wildfire risk reduction through a more focused approach. Over the course of the two years, the communities concentrated on these goals: To have 100 percent participation of homes within the designated pilot boundary (sites were able to self-identify up to 100 co-located homes in each pilot site). To complete identified mitigation tasks within 30 feet of every home, based on recommendations from individual assessments. At the end of the two years communities reported higher levels of engagement and interest in the Firewise program and wildfire mitigation efforts, and helped prove that community wildfire resilience is achievable. It was challenging work, but according to Michele Steinberg, NFPA wildfire division director, the program underscored the true power and impact of Firewise communities working together to reduce their collective risk to wildfire. A free report and interactive story map are now available. Each provides a view into the challenges, successes, and best practices discovered during the pilot. The findings will be used to help direct future Firewise program changes as well as inform policy that can support increased implementation of risk reduction practices in communities facing wildfire threats to life and property. Download the free report and take some time to navigate through the story map to learn more about the communities and their work. We hope the lessons learned in the program can help enhance your own community’s wildfire risk reduction efforts.

Free online learning courses launched: learn how to reduce wildfire risk to property

Thanks to a Fire Prevention and Safety Grant from FEMA, NFPA has transformed its existing classroom-based wildfire mitigation training into a digital learning experience. Two new courses on Reducing Wildfire Risk to Property – one for property owners, the other for wildfire mitigation professionals – will help bring key information and knowledge to millions of people. Reducing Wildfire Risk to Property: Protecting Your Home or Business helps educate homeowners, business owners, and property managers on the key factors that determine risk to property from wildfire, steps they can take to protect their homes and businesses, and tips on how to share the information with other community members. An Individual Property Protection Plan is built into the course, which offers tailored, practical steps to help prevent the destruction of property. The course also comes with a mobile app, the NFPA Wildfire Risk Simulator that includes an interactive 3D and augmented reality (AR) tool illustrating wildfire risk to structures. Users can select the environment, type of structure, and other details that most closely match their own scenario. As the simulated wildfire approaches, users will see the variables that help contribute to the destruction of their virtual home or building. Based on this learning, users can then adjust those variables for a more successful outcome. Reducing Wildfire Risk to Property: Professional Online Training is designed for wildfire mitigation professionals who want to increase their knowledge and confidence in evaluating wildfire risk in their communities and effectively communicating with property owners and community leaders. The two-hour self-guided online training includes interactive exercises to help users practice how to communicate risk and mitigation options to home and business owners and guide them to take effective steps to protect their property. This course provides continuing education units that can support job requirements as well as the maintenance of the NFPA Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist (CWMS) credential. In addition to the financial support from the FEMA Fire Prevention & Safety Grant, NFPA’s training team had expert support to develop the course from wildfire experts including former NFPA Wildfire Field Office Manager Tom Welle (currently with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office); Jerry McAdams, MC Fire, LLC and Boise (Idaho) Fire Department; and Justice Jones, Wildfire Mitigation Officer at City of Austin (Texas) Fire Department. The course material is distilled from seminal research by Dr. Jack Cohen (ret.), US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, and the Disaster Research Center of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The new courses support the tenets of its Outthink Wildfire™ policy initiative by dramatically increasing public access to wildfire risk reduction education. With nearly 45 million American homes at high risk to damage from wildfire, it is critically important that property owners and professional advisors have access to knowledge about wildfire causes and disaster prevention strategies. The trainings are designed to engage people in safety actions long before a fire starts, spurring much needed risk-reduction measures at the property and neighborhood levels. To learn more about reducing wildfire risk to property and to register for these free courses, visit nfpa.org/wildfirepreparedness.

PyroLife: training the next generation of wildfire scientists

Did you know about NFPA’s partnership with the European PyroLife project? Read on to learn more about this project and the importance of international partnerships in advancing Integrated Wildfire Management around the world. PyroLife is a PhD training network funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action (EU Horizon 2020). Specifically, it is a PhD training program on wildfires, aimed at advancing holistic, integrated wildfire management in Europe and globally, with the support of a worldwide network. The network is made up of 15 PhD candidates and over 20 academic and non-academic institutions in Europe and beyond, including NFPA (more information about the network here). The PyroLife PhDs conduct research from very diverse areas, such as wildfire impacts on water and soil systems; the economic costs of wildfires; wildfire governance; wildfire building safety; and communicating with communities at risk. To foster learning and research across disciplines, sectors and geographies, and help them become the next generation of wildfire scientists, the PhDs are involved in multiple activities beyond their individual research projects. These include trainings, workshops, dissemination activities, and secondments. And this is where NFPA’s partnership with PyroLife comes in. NFPA has greatly contributed to organizing and facilitating training and dissemination events, like the PyroLife International Symposium in 2020, the PyroLife webinar series during 2021, and the Basics of Risk Communication training in November 2021.   Moreover, NFPA hosts four of the PyroLife PhDs for secondments. By doing these research exchanges, the PhDs are exposed to working environments that are complementary to where they usually conduct their research. This fosters cross-disciplinary, intersectoral, and geographical transfer of knowledge, building networks, and paving the road for future wildfire collaborations across the globe. For instance, Isabeau Ottolini, who researches community-based wildfire communication at the Open University of Catalonia (Spain), has recently spent her secondment with NFPA. Thanks to this, she has presented her research at two conferences: the 2022 NFPA Conference & Expo and the IAWF Fire & Climate Conference. Furthermore, she travelled across California, Colorado and Massachusetts, learning about wildfire management, communication, and community engagement on the ground. These extremely valuable learning opportunities would not have been possible without the PyroLife network and the partner's willingness to be so actively engaged in it. In a next blogpost, Isabeau will share lessons learned on wildfire communication from her time with NFPA, so stay tuned! About the author: Isabeau Ottolini is a PhD candidate from the Open University of Catalonia (Spain) and part of the European project, PyroLife. She is researching Community-based Wildfire Communication and has recently spent her secondment at NFPA’s Wildfire Division.
A facilitator listening to a group

Outthink Wildfire summit works to build a bridge between barriers to wildfire mitigation and strategies to overcome them

As the past several years have shown, the mounting wildfire crisis in the U.S. presents a significant danger to people, homes, and communities, particularly those in wildfire urban interface (WUI) settings. While we know what’s needed to measurable reduce these risks, putting them into action requires buy-in and support from individual property-owners, communities, and policymakers at each level of government. Therein lies the challenge. Motivating these audiences to do their part isn’t always easy. But to truly increase safety from wildfire, we need to identify viable pathways to better combat the growing wildfire problem and put those measures into action. As a next step toward that end, NFPA hosting its first Outthink Wildfire™ summit last week in Sacramento, CA. NFPA launched Outthink Wildfire last year as a major policy initiative to stem the tide of wildfire-caused human and property losses through significant changes at all levels of government. Outthink Wildfire is about how we build, where we build, and bringing policymakers, fire service and the public together to solve the problem. The summit focused on developing a set of recommendations for the built environment, primarily tackling ways to get existing homes better protected from wildfire. Representatives from nearly 40 organizations were invited to share their input, insights, and recommendations, and to help create a template for effectively reducing wildfire risks in WUI communities. While space for this event was limited, it serves as a launchpad for many more individuals and organizations to participate going forward so that we can collectively move the needle on wildfire mitigation. Outthink Wildfire participants (in alphabetical order) American Property Casualty Insurance Association Brian Meacham Associates Build Strong America CAL FIRE California Association of REALTORS® California Building Industry Association California Building Standards Commission California Fire Safe Council California Fire Science Consortium/Cal Poly San Luis Obispo California Governor's Office City of Austin (TX) Fire Department Colorado Div. of Fire Prevention & Control Colorado Wildfire Partners Desert Research Institute Fire Marshals Association of Colorado U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) Insurance Information Institute International Code Council Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. National Association of State Fire Marshals National Disability Rights Network National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) National Volunteer Fire Council National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) NorCal Fire Prevention Officers Oregon Building Codes Division, Dept Consumer & Business Svcs Oregon Fire Marshals Association Oregon State Fire Marshals Office Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) Foundation Sonoma County (CA) Fire Prevention & Hazardous Materials Div. Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment U.S. Fire Administration UL Fire Safety Research Institute USDA Forest Service Western Fire Chiefs Association Wildland Fire Leadership Council A full report on the summit and next steps will be released in the coming months. In the meantime, a tremendous thank you to the 50-plus representatives who attended the summit this week. The enthusiasm and commitment displayed reinforces my hope and belief that we will truly be able to meet the ultimate Outthink Wildfire goal of eliminating wildfire hazards in 30 years. I also look forward to hearing from all the wildfire safety advocates and officials who were not at the summit but would like to get actively involved in the Outthink Wildfire initiative. It takes buy-in and engagement from all of us to make holistic, impactful wildfire mitigation a reality.
Hands holding a house

Spring in to action: financial preparedness for wildfire

As we work through the last month of spring, NFPA wants to make sure you are ready for wildfires.  There are many actions when it comes to preparation ahead of a wildfire, one important step that often gets overlooked is financial preparedness. Homeowners and renters need to have property insurance in place to help recover from a wildfire or other disaster. Recent wildfire losses are highlighting a real problem of underinsurance. According to a posting on insurance.com, "Most homes are underinsured. Nationwide estimates that about two-thirds of American homes are underinsured. Some homes are underinsured by at least 60 percent and the average is about 22 percent. CoreLogic estimates that three out of five American homes are underinsured by an average of 20 percent." This means that when a loss from wildfire or other disaster occurs, much of the repair or rebuild cost will fall on the homeowner as an out-of-pocket expense. To ensure your coverage is update to-date, our friends at American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) recommend doing the following each year: Update your policy after remodels or home improvements. Ask if your policy has coverages for three key things to prevent underinsurance: Extended replacement cost; Building code upgrade coverage; and Annual inflation adjustment. Be sure your policy reflects the correct square footage, number of bedrooms / bathrooms and doors and windows. Make sure your policy reflects your home’s finishes like granite countertops or hardwood floors. Renters need property insurance too. Consider bundling renters’ insurance with your auto coverage. Add comprehensive coverage to your auto policy to protect car in a wildfire Another important step to determine if you have enough coverage to replace your possessions is to create a home inventory. This task may seem daunting, especially if you've been in your home for many years, but it can be manageable. Some simple steps from the Insurance Information Institute include: Pick an easy spot to start, an area that is contained such as a small kitchen appliance cabinet or sporting equipment closet List recent purchases Include basic information – where you bought it, make and model, what you paid County clothing by general category Record serial numbers found on major appliances and electronic equipment Check coverage on big ticket items Don't forget off-site items Keep proof of value – sales receipts, purchase contracts, appraisals Don't get overwhelmed – It's better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all When creating your home inventory, embrace technology! Take pictures or videos, back them up digitally. There also many apps available to help organize and store your records. The current wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico remind us that wildfires can occur any time of year when the conditions allow.  Start your financial preparedness now – visit APCIA to download the How to Update Your Insurance and How to Create a Home Inventory tip sheets to guide your annual insurance review.  Share with your friends and family so they can be ready too!
500 Firewise Communities in California

California residents lead the way in Firewise USA

In the years that I've worked with the Firewise USA program, I have been amazed by the commitment of resident leaders and their community members to address wildfire hazards in their area. In the last several years we have seen rapid interest and growth in the program, especially in the west, as a result of the wildfire situation. Rather than watching fire happen to them, individuals are taking action ahead of time to improve the condition of their home and immediate surrounding property, to be more resistant to the threat of embers and surface flames from a wildfire. It truly is astounding and I'd like to take a moment to recognize an awesome achievement. Earlier in March I had the opportunity to on-board Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County, the 500th community in California…that's right, 500th! And as of writing this blog, the number of communities in good standing in California has grown to 513.   Since the beginning of 2020 California has seen a groundswell in participation, with much of the effort really occurring at the grass roots level.  While state and local partners are supporting communities, resident leaders are truly driving the charge. Firewise USA sites are guiding and mentoring each other through the recognition process, forming coalitions to learn from each other and leverage mitigation efforts, and even supporting policy changes at the local and state level to help regulate building and vegetation management.    We applaud the residents of California for stepping up and doing their part to address wildfire. A big thank you to CAL FIRE, the host of the state liaison to NFPA, and the network of local fire safe councils, fire departments, and other partners that support these communities. We look forward to seeing the great work continue.   Is your community ready to take action? Visit Firewise.org  to learn more about how to organize your community and take steps towards increasing your chances of withstanding a wildfire.
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