Group 2: Emily Disbury, Sam Peltier, Megan Espinola, Kaylee Duncanson
Here is the link to our presentation on Community Adaptation to Fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0jK0iWE8gU
Fire adapted community is defined as a human community consisting of informed and prepared citizens collaboratively planning and taking action to safely coexist with wildland fire. The biggest problem with this is that current fire adapted communities lack cohesive response and design.
Fire adapted communities are better prepared for the risks of wildfire, they have a more effective outlook after fire, they save taxpayer money, and limit property damage from fires. Creating wildfire regulations in wildland-urban interfaces builds collaboration with local fire departments, state forestry agencies, the Forest Service, and property owners. Programs like Firewsie are nationally recognized and help wildland-urban interfaces become fire adapted. The National Fire Prevention Association gives property owners guidelines on how to reduce wildfire risk on their property.
Having a national collaborative program helps communities after fires by ensuring agencies and property owners know their responsibilities and ensures that damage costs are disrupted fairly. These programs protect the lives of residents and firefighters, limit property damage and protect community assets, and they save taxpayer money.
Fire adapted plans need to be implemented in more communities to help reduce fire risk and to help these communities with the aftermath of fires.
The size and scope of wildfires is increasing, and the resources required to combat them is increasing as well. This forces a larger proportion of agencies to address or respond to fire in some way, many indirectly. From this results a larger financial burden and convoluted management structure. While dispersed and adaptive management has resulted in overall better response, a convoluting of the financial and management liabilities has also increased. Should the roles of lower-level managers be more clearly defined, they would be able to more accurately allocate budgets as well as being able to better engage with the community.
Community engagement is necessary because the wildland-urban interface is ever-expanding. Its increasingly scattered nature had led many managers to pursue community involvement, in both proactive and reactive measures. For example, a lower-level manager with a clear area of responsibility and budget would be better able to disseminate basic information about defensible space, perform property mapping, and better organize community leaders for post-wildfire response.
Community leaders are critical to post-wildfire response because there is a huge difference in the availability of trained management pre and post fire. Before a fire, many are widely available for collaboration. Post-fire, they are busy, and there is a huge gap in management. Communities affected by fire naturally mobilize – checking on neighbors, repairing damage, and seeing how they can help. However, without proactive instruction, these neighborhoods are left to self-organize. By allowing lower-level managers to control their local community outreach, they can identify potential problems and establish lines of communication to gather critical data post-fire. As an example, people living on the WUI can be put into small groups based on proximity and geography, be made aware of any members of their group that would have potential mobility issues in the event of an evacuation, and be given a clear leader and method of communication which can be used to report key information to professionals in an ever-evolving emergency.
After fire, it can be a stressful and difficult time for members of the community to bounce back. Having a fire management and adaptation plan for when this occurs is crucial for efficient and timely community adaptation.
Most states take a disorganized mixed method approach, which causes issues with costs and resources. For example, in one study it was recorded that in Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico that acres burned was the primary or only method, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming all had mixed methods, and then Idaho declared no clear method (GAO, 2006). This not only increases the wildland fire debt of each state, but also makes it difficult to split up costs between states if fires crossed state lines. Also regarding resources, we are depleting them faster than we can rebuild making fighting fires more costly adding to the issue.
In a study across four US communities that had a Community Wildfire Protection Plan in place, it was found that they “improved relationships among firefighting agencies, clarified responsibilities and improved communication systems, contributing to fire response efficiency and effectiveness” compared to other communities without one (Jakes, 2013).
For policy recommendations, we have four main areas to consider that would help create more wildfire adaptive communities. First is the improvement of communication resources and extension of educational outreaches through programs such as Firewise and National Fire Academy. These fire recognition programs offer a broad audience easy access to online tools that help communities learn more about how to reduce their risk within the wildland urban interface. Improving the use and accessibility of these programs would greatly increase community knowledge and help to build better mitigation strategies.
Hand in hand with this first recommendation, we recommend the increased funding to these programs. Increasing investments into programs that focus on prevention such as those mentioned in the national plan and cohesive strategic plan will improve the resources that these programs can deploy. Current efforts being made by the Forest Service to fund a pilot program on land use planning are underway through non-profit organizations like Headwaters Economics. Funding would also enable options for seed banks, access to tools, and help catalog information on fire adapted communities. On a smaller scale, communities could draw mitigation funding for WUI treatments from HOA fees or tax districts.
The third recommendation we have is the standardization of guidelines that define fire adapted community. This national minimum standard would be easy to follow and would include interagency communication plans, consistent outreach terminology, defined fire response efforts, and clear zoning for defensible spaces in the WUI. Currently, states are left to define their own policies on what a fire adapted community looks like and what the consequences are for failing to meet these regulations. The addition of a federal plan would give weight to the importance of creating these fire adapted communities. Non-profit organizations like the National Fire Prevention Association have already been outlining standards for wildland fire prevention within their plans that would work as a federal guideline. These plans define many of the standards that would be useful within a federal framework like roof ratings, evacuation plans, and defensible zone sizes.
Finally, we recommend a focus on prepared response plans. While mitigation should be the goal to reduce loss, fire is inevitable and every community needs to have a response plan in place to better aid the community and first responders. This can be included as part of the standard guideline for adaptive communities, but it is important that it not be left out when designing adaptive communities. Such things as designing roads to include the accessibility for first response vehicles and allow access to defensible spaces are key to emergency responders being able to work effectively. There also needs to be a plan in place for volunteer community response. They should have individuals trained to have some level of disaster response leadership in place. Programs like FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team give basic training in disaster response organization, fire safety, and basic medical operations.
Our final thoughts on adaptive communities are that current policy is limited and lacks cohesive plans for mitigation and response. If changes are not made we will continue to see losses of lives and properties. Changes to guidelines, funding, and communication would be points where we recommend that agencies focus their attention to have the greatest impact on improving adaptive community structures.