AUTHOR: Michele Steinberg

HIZ Class26 TX 2015

FEMA's Fire Prevention & Safety Grant to support creation of a digital wildfire risk reduction program

To meet the needs of homeowners and business owners at risk from wildfire, and the fire departments that serve them, NFPA will develop a digital wildfire safety hub containing online learning modules, 3D simulations, educational videos, and other essential resources, all thanks to a generous FEMA grant. The Fire Prevention & Safety Grant was awarded to NFPA for a two-year project to transform its classroom-based wildfire risk reduction training into a comprehensive digital learning experience that reaches millions of Americans living and working in the wildland/urban interface (WUI). While the past few years of devastating wildfires in California have captured national attention, it's not only California communities that are vulnerable. The recently released Wildfire Risk to Communities data shows that 24 states, nearly half outside the Western U.S., have a significant risk to homes.With nearly 44 million properties identified as vulnerable to the impacts of wildfires nationwide, the potential for future structure damage and loss is enormous. NFPA chose a digital experiential approach to ensure the widest possible dissemination and implementation of critical wildfire mitigation measures to these high-risk areas. The project will be conducted in partnership with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization, and overseen by a technical advisory panel of experts. NFPA will develop three curricula: one each for homeowners, business owners/property managers, and fire service and public safety personnel. Each will provide the appropriate knowledge for each audience regarding WUI fire mitigation practices, using interactive web-based training and engaging simulations in a 3D virtual environment. The experiential training modules and additional tools will be readily available, along with NFPA's rich wildfire safety content, on the planned website hub. NFPA believes the courses and tools we will build with the support of this grant will help spur much needed risk-reduction measures at the property and neighborhood levels, buoying the voluntary efforts of residents and firefighters who engage in fire adaptation including NFPA's Firewise USA Recognition Program and its annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day campaign. Image: An in-person classroom training, Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire. The new training and resources will use the information and knowledge this class is based on to expand NFPA's wildfire safety education to millions of Americans through digital delivery.
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Colorado wildfires break records, and it's not over yet

Even as wildfire weather conditions continue to plague parts of California, October has seen wildfire activity erupt across Colorado. In recent days, fires that have been burning in more remote areas of northwest and central parts of the state for more than two months have been joined by fires closer to populated areas including the city and county of Boulder and the celebrated resort town of Estes Park. At the time of writing this blog, the National Weather Service is predicting cold and snow moving in – but the cold front is bringing strong winds first, that will make controlling the spread and movement of these fires all but impossible. It's hard to get a handle on all that's happening, but reports include thousands of people evacuated from developed areas all around the Front Range region. In our current pandemic situation, sheltering thousands of people together presents real concerns about virus transmission. The East Troublesome wildfire has grown in just a couple of days to the second-largest wildfire in the state's history (the Cameron Peak fire north of it near Fort Collins, still burning after starting in mid-August, is the largest at more than 200,000 acres). There are real concerns that these fires will spread and join. It's mind-boggling to watch as week by week and day by day, “largest fire” records are shattered. NFPA's Firewise map includes the data on fire perimeters and hotspots for you to track the location and growth of these fires. There have been homes destroyed, but while the fires are still burning, firefighters and county sheriffs are focused on fire response, not yet on damage assessment. Many community safety leaders are sharing information about safe evacuation, safe return, and disaster recovery. As my NFPA colleague Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan posted back in September, it's time to be prepared, especially to evacuate, if you're in an area with a fire weather watch or warning happening. See her post for the tips we provide to keep you and your family safe. If you are in an area under these warnings, keep aware of the news and check your local sheriff's or emergency management agency's website or social media pages. As the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association advises, be sure to take steps to protect your finances by knowing your insurance policy, keeping your receipts, and contacting your agent whether you've been evacuated, are under a pre-evacuation alert, or if you've suffered a loss due to wildfire.
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Second major insurer offers California homeowners discounts for reducing wildfire risk

In recognition of the value of wildfire risk reduction, including participation in NFPA's Firewise USA Recognition Program, Mercury Insurance is the second major insurance company in recent years to offer discounts to its California customers who have taken steps to protect their homes. Wildfire season in California has gotten progressively worse in recent years, lasting longer and growing in severity. It's increasingly important for homeowners to actively reduce their wildfire risk to better protect their homes, families, and property.   Mercury Insurance now offers wildfire mitigation discounts to California homeowners living in wildfire-prone regions. Homeowners who take one or more steps to harden their homes against wildfires or live in a community recognized by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as a Firewise USA site will be eligible to receive discounts of up to 18%.   “We're in this together, which is why Mercury is engineering solutions to encourage proactive actions that better protect homeowners from wildfires,” said Jane Li, Mercury Insurance's director of product management. “It's important for homeowners in these areas to take proactive steps to help shield their property from fire, and it's just as important for everyone in the community to work together to reduce their shared ignition risks, which could save them money and improve their insurance eligibility.” Mercury joins auto and home insurer USAA in rewarding homeowners for their active participation in wildfire risk reduction via the Firewise USA Recognition Program. USAA began offering a homeowners insurance discount to its members in Firewise USA sites in California in 2014 and has expanded this program to 10 additional states over the years. Mercury's community-level discount is for homes that are located in an NFPA Firewise USA Recognition Program site, shelter-in-place community, or are part of a community with an active annual fuel mitigation program in place. To learn more about eligibility, get an online quote or speak to a Mercury agent.  To learn more about Firewise USA and whether your community participates, please visit www.firewise.org.
Oregon
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Recognizing a need for clarification: Firewise recognition vs. certification

As 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.
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Major insurer adds wildfire safety incentive for members in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming

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.
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