A New Model for Involving Your Community in Mitigation

Oct 28, 2015 7:02:38 PM / by Joy Collins

Houses in overly-vegetated area

The Best Preparation for Tomorrow is Doing Our Best Today

Years ago, a friend and mentor of ours in Colorado Springs loved this community so much and was so concerned about the threat of wildfires in Colorado that he built his career in firefighting around his desire to help our community be better prepared. He figured out where the worst of the threat was and spent time and money to address it.  He and his team focused on fuels assessments, risk mitigation, and educating the community about how to share responsibility for preparedness.

I remember when I first realized that his program was the one that made a wood-chipper available to folks processing limbs and trees downed by a bad wind storm that summer. It was so amazing to see that a fire department could help the community by providing a wood chipper roving from neighborhood to neighborhood and by appointment. Chippers are not cheap but this department-funded service helps reduce fuels and future fire fighting even more than it helps homeowners clean up their property. I cannot imagine how much worse the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest Fires would have been without Colorado Springs' Wildfire Mitigation program.

Community Outreach is a Great Tradition in Public Service

Talking with firefighters at conferences around the country and looking at their department websites, I've come to realize that the best fire departments do community outreach in various ways: hosting community events like pancake breakfasts and fun runs for great causes, reaching out to schools to help children understand fire prevention and fire response, providing information and helping set up smoke alarms or stove top burner adaptors, and helping homeowners understand all the factors that could help prevent fires in and around their homes.

The New Model for Community Risk

Here's how one rural fire department and their fire plan partners in southern Oregon have become majorly successful implementing a community risk program. According to one press release:

"Keno Fire Protection District and the Oregon Department of Forestry Klamath Unit have [utilized] a situational awareness platform, called SITUATIONANALYST, that allows users to gather information from many sources and makes it easy for homeowners and emergency responders to use.

"In SITUATIONANALYST, incident managers, planners, and responders have real-time information for their work. Homeowners can see how fire planners have assessed their risk because they can see the rating for their property and information about how to make their home and property safer against wildfires. Homeowners can also communicate back to the fire planners any improvements they have made and they can register any special needs they may have in the event of an evacuation."

Chief John Ketchum had a vision of working with the community on mitigating wildfire risk, and he recognized that he needed technical help in order to realize his vision. So he sucessfully applied for a grant and hired a tech company (Intterra) that he believed could put his vision into practice. Chief Ketchum started with information that had already been gathered, and then, step-by-step, he got his team and community members to add information to the system along the way.

  • First Layer on the Map: Parcel Risk Assessment — How the slope and vegetation and proximal features affect the likelihood for the spread of wildfire and the difficulty or ease in fighting a fire on that property.

  • Next Step: Structure Risk Assessment — How the construction elements of the structure (roof type, siding, vents, etc.) affect the flammability of the structure.

  • Technical Task: Analytical Processing — How all the risk factors are assessed and put through a formula that delivers each property's risk score. This stage is the technical crux of the process, and Intterra works very closely with customers to share our wealth of references and years of experience producing risk assessments.

  • Community Interactive Layer: Homeowner Risk Assessment — An online system allowing homeowners to see how different options for their structure and vegetation affect their risk score. Homeowners can save changes that they have made and submit them for review by their fire department.  

You can check out the Klamath County Ready-Set-Go website for more information on how they do it.

All these programs show how seriously fire departments take prevention efforts - which is really a measure of how much they love the communities they serve. We love working alongside inspiring programs, and we get to see the best of the best work across the country. We would love to know your story too.

Are you already sold on SITUATIONANALYST? Or are you ready to learn more? Click below to let us know!

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Topics: Situational Awareness, Community Risk, Wildfire Mitigation, Mitigation

Joy Collins

Written by Joy Collins