CRP faculty research to design an innovative wildfire mitigation solution

City and Regional Planning faculty are involved in creating new planning tool for address the wildfire hazard. This is what they are doing.

The problem at hand. Between 2003 and 2021, the top 10 costliest wildland fires in the United States all occurred in California, where  one  in four people live in an area considered high risk for wildfires.  Given the impact of catastrophic fires in western states the need exists for increasing Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fire resilience through assessing and managing local land use, mitigation and adaptation plans.  Most California jurisdictions produce, and utilize many different types of plans (e.g.  Safety Element of the General Plan, Hazard Mitigation Plan, and Community Wildfire and Protection Plan)  each with its own set of policies, and implementation scheme; generally lacking integration. This is especially true when speaking about hazards, particularly the wildland urban interface fire hazard (WUI) that is usually addressed by several agencies but lacks collaboration and spatial understanding of the heterogenous effects of different policies across a community. 

A proposed solution . This research project focuses on applying the Plan Integration Resilience Scorecard (PIRS) method to jurisdictions that are subject to the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) hazard.  PIRS is a methodology that spatially evaluates networks of plans to help reduce vulnerability to hazards. It provides a pathway to adjust multiple policies to improve and strengthen resiliency at the spatial level. Plan integration is the process of harmonizing a jurisdictions network of plans to support community priorities. With support from the Department of Homeland Security(DHS), and a focus on floods, it was first piloted in several East Coast Cities and the Netherlands. Then NOAA provided support for urban heat island hazard using the PIRS method for a pilot in several cities. FEMA has evaluated vulnerability in the Southern usual this method.

WUI however, presents a special challenge in that the hazard itself stems from the dynamics of fuel variables  (natural and built) interacting with climate, and human variables. The WUI+PIRS method seeks to strengthen mitigation policy at the local jurisdictional level, improving integration of policies by scoring their influence as mitigation actions and by identifying them spatially. 

PIRS+WUI is  a three part process.   First, hazard zones are defined and mapped creating neighborhood scale units for improved analysis.  For PIRS+WUI a combination of CA Fire Hazard Severity maps is combined with census block groups and parcel data. Second,  content analysis is used on documents from the jurisdictions “network of plans” to organize a “policy set” related to the hazard that is scored relative to impact on vulnerability, and influences on land use.  Finally, physical and social vulnerability are determined for each of the districts and compared to the policy scores. The phases to a PIRS include: creating the scorecard, analyzing the scorecard, analyzing scorecard results, and advancing resilience.  The scorecard shows which policies contribute most to building WUI resilience for the jurisdiction.

This  project will work with four CA jurisdictions (Atascadero, Temecula, Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties) over a two year periods using a multidisciplinary team of faculty associated with  the Cal Poly WUI Fire Institute and the Texas A&M Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.  The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provides funding support for this effort. 

The Cal Poly team, working the WUI Fire Institute includes: William Siembieda, (Principal Investigator). and Cornelius Norworsoo from City and Regional Planning,, Margot McDonald from Architecture, Andrew Fricker from Geography, Chris Dicus from Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences, and Dan Turner from the Firesafe Council. Cal Poly students are involved in developing the GIS maps to use in the analysis phase.

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