Notification: Notification: Visit our COVID-19 resource center - Learn More >

Wildfire Planning, Prevention and Response: What All Community Leaders Need to Know

Last month the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC), an organization comprising of top federal and state fire managers, raised the National Fire Preparedness Level (PL) to its highest point — PL-5. This was only the fifth time that PL-5, which indicates very high degrees of wildfire activity, had been reached since 2007. Why has the wildfire risk been so high this season, and what can your organization do to help prevent fires, raise awareness about fire prevention and plan for wildfire-related crises?

There’s no better time to shine the light on this important issue than during the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Prevention Week this October 8-14.

The 411 on Wildfires

In announcing August’s severe conditions, NMAC Chair Dan Buckley said, “A significant amount of initial and extended attack and large fire activity has occurred over the past several days as a result of lightning storms that have intensified local and geographic response. Given the continuing hot and dry weather and the increase in fire activity in the western U.S., the decision to move to Preparedness Level 5 depicts the complexity that fire managers are encountering to assure that adequate fire-fighting resources are available for protection of life, property, and our nation’s national resources.”

As of the time of the announcement, a total of 40,845 wildfires had burned more than six million acres in the U.S. in 2017. This was 2.8 million acres higher than the 4.2 million acre ten-year average. Even more alarming is that just 10 percent of wildland fires are caused by natural forces, such as lava and lightning. What is responsible for the remaining 90 percent? Human activity. Specifically, unattended campfires, carelessly discarded cigarettes, burning debris and deliberate acts of arson represent major man-made causes, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Understanding the Risk

More than 4.5 million American households are at “high or extreme risk from wildfire,” says the Leavitt Group, and insurance brokerage firm. Which states are the most wildfire prone? Topping the list are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

The Leavitt Group also identifies the three leading wildfire risk factors as fuel (grass, trees and dense brush), slope (steep slopes that can increase wildfire speed and intensity) and access (dead-end roads that interfere with fire-fighting equipment). Persistent drought conditions in certain regions compound wildfire risk.

Best Practices for Communication

Effective and efficient communication is a critical part of wildfire education, prevention and mitigation. But this can be easier said than done. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), “Just as each fire takes on characteristics of its own, a well-planned communications program is unique because your messages are specifically linked to your ecosystem, local community, agency/organization mission, methods and media used, and your credibility as the messenger.”

The takeaway? While every organization should have a communication plan, each should be dictated by the specifics of the organization. Still, according to “A Study of Wildfire Communications,” savvy communication and disaster response plans share several overarching strategies, including:

  • Using common language and terminology to bridge the gap between technical jargon and understanding.
  • Keeping key stakeholders  informed and aware about wildfires and their management in a consistent and timely manner.
  • Taking a creative approach to communication and considering which methods deliver the most “value” for your target audience.
  • Developing “generic yet flexible” messages for each target audience (media, homeowners, area businesses, etc.).
  • Collaborating with other groups, including wildland fire communicators and organizations as well as other stakeholders, such as business associations and local citizens’ groups.
  • Incorporating feedback and evaluation into all of your communication activities and products.

And remember: When time is of the essence, quality and clarity are imperative. NIFC also gives this advice: “The cornerstone of any communication program is a set of consistent, compelling messages for use in all proactive and reactive communications. Messages should be actionable where appropriate so that, in addition to educating, they will motivate the audiences to act on what they have learned.”

Make Communication Count with CodeRED

“Ecological communication planning targets specific messages to a specific audience for a specific response,” says the NIFC. “Those who ‘fail to plan, plan to fail.’ Systematic communication planning is required for wildland fire messages to become heard, acted upon, and impact policy and practice.”

While this may sound like an overwhelming project for your organization amidst all of your other mission-critical tasks and responsibilities, CodeRED from OnSolve, the market leader in cloud-based emergency notifications, offers a simple solution. Designed to enable organizations just like yours to deliver geo-targeted, time-sensitive information to those in need, OnSolve employs a multi-modal approach to ensure that all constituents receive the information they need with the highest degrees of speed, relevance and reliability.

Do you really want to wait until a wildfire is bearing down on your community to start protecting your constituents and all that they hold dear?

Interested in learning more?
Contact OnSolve today to learn more about how CodeRED can help you make sure your potentially life-saving messages spread faster than the blaze.