Topic: Wildfire

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.

Sound Policy: A Means to an End of Wildfire Destruction in our Communities

There are 44.8 million homes located in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) in America. According to experts, over the past three years, the nation has seen over 100 fatalities, 40,000 structures destroyed, and nearly $40 billion in insured losses from wildfire in high-risk WUI areas. The picture remains dire, experts warn, and the destruction we have seen in the past few years is not just an anomaly, but a look into the near future. As widespread destruction from wildfire continues, many people remain unsure that what they do will make a difference. During a session at NFPA’s Conference & Expo on Wednesday morning, Michele Steinberg, NFPA Wildfire Division director, Meghan Housewright, NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute director, and Ray Bizal, NFPA Director of Regional Operations, led a panel discussion to remind attendees the safety of our communities is in our hands and comes through more sound local, state, and federal policy. The panel, who were among a group of experts instrumental in the development of NFPA’s “Outthink Wildfire™” campaign, went on to outline the campaign’s five tenets needed for all levels of government to foster collaboration, enact change, achieve resilience, and enhance protection from wildfire, and highlighted some of the policymaking activity and initiatives already underway in states like Oregon, Colorado, and California. But when it comes right down to it, they said, everyone plays a role in reducing wildfire risk. And just as better policy is paramount, more and continued collaboration is also needed between policymakers, the fire service, and the public if we are to move the needle in a more measurable way. “States are taking action,” said Steinberg, “but there are still obstacles we must overcome. While we have seen a lack of political will and public acceptance about the wildfire problem, we continue working closely with communities and policymakers across the country to help address these challenges.” More information about “Outthink Wildfire” and its five tenets is available at nfpa.org/outthinkwildfire.
Jim at General Sessions

NFPA General Session Focuses on Leadership, Innovation and Reaching Beyond Historical Success

NFPA President Jim Pauley gave a rousing keynote to thousands of attendees who were excited to be part of the 2022 NFPA Conference & Expo, which was back in person for the first time since 2019. He said, “While we had to delay our celebration of NFPA’s 125th anniversary, it is fitting that we are here in Boston to recognize this special milestone.” Noting that the conference was held only a short distance from the birthplace of NFPA in 1896, Pauley chronicled the 125-year past of the organization and stressed how it is driving the work NFPA does to further reduce loss and tackle the fire, life, and electrical safety issues of the times. “It is important to honor our past. But we don’t see our rich history as an easy chair to rest in, but a catapult to propel us forward - aimed at greater challenges than our predecessors experienced,” said Pauley.  He talked about the digital transformation impacting so many aspects of life. In particular, he spoke of the relevancy of NFPA LiNK™, which is dramatically changing the way professionals interact with codes and standards and related information. The digital platform provides better access to more robust information by delivering intuitive, seamless, information on demand when and where practitioners need it. This digital transformation is also a key factor in NFPA certification and training programs.  Online learning solutions feature interactive modeling, simulated training scenarios, and 3D virtual experiences. NFPA recently launched a new platform to make applying for and renewing certifications easier than ever and introduced remote proctoring for certification exams. Pauley also talked about one of the most prevalent fire threats today – wildfire – and a new NFPA initiative to reverse the disastrous trend. Outthink Wildfire™ is rooted in two facts – one is that wildfires are going to happen, whether they are caused by nature, by people, or the built environment.  And two, that fire departments will never be able to save all the property in the path of a wildfire. Outthink Wildfire is about how we build, where we build, and how we bring policymakers, first responders, and the public together to take action. Pivoting from the enormous success of NFPA and its critical role in providing resources that protect people and property from hazards, Pauley addressed a direct threat to NFPA. “NFPA is challenged by a vocal minority who have the erroneous view that standards, once incorporated by reference, should lose their copyright protection. They argue that if a governmental body decides to incorporate a standard into law or regulation to help with public safety, then the standard immediately is open for anyone to take, copy and distribute – even start a commercial business by offering them to the public – without any compensation to NFPA. This is a very misguided view,” he said. “The continued assault by special interests on copyright protection threatens the ability of NFPA and organizations like us to fund this important work… Without copyright protection, we would not be able to support the codes and standards development process, nor would be able to continue providing the research, public education programs, wildfire mitigation efforts, and other resources that are inherent to our mission and available for free.” Pauley emphasized that NFPA is continuing to fight this battle on all fronts to unequivocally confirm what is known: That standards are protected by copyright, even when they are incorporated by reference, allowing for a system that benefits government, businesses, and the public.  He concluded by looking forward. “What began 125 years ago to solve the fire problem in a young, industrialized nation is now a global force advancing safety worldwide. We are leading with innovative approaches to new and lingering threats. Through our work together, more people and property are saved in more places.”
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