6 Encouraging Community Wildfire Awareness

Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Grand Zoso Ballroom West (Hotel Zoso)
Robyn Heffernan, NOAA/NWS, Boise, ID; and C. H. Jones and K. Lynott

Wildfire is a growing threat each year for communities across the United States and the demand for fire weather services is increasing as well. These fire weather services consist of warnings, forecasts, and incident meteorological services, as well as the education and preparation of communities for hazardous fire weather conditions.

A core mission of the NOAA/NWS outreach and education program is to identify community preparedness objectives and develop area-wide projects through engagement with partner agencies and citizens. The vision of the NOAA/NWS fire weather program is that the use of fire weather decision support information enables and improves firefighter and public safety, property protection, and effective resource management. Combining these efforts would be to develop community preparedness activities with partner engagement for firefighter and public safety, and property protection.

Preparedness and mitigation activities for wildfire have been longstanding through the federal land management agencies, and the National Weather Services has been heavily invested in preparedness and mitigation activities for thunderstorms, hurricanes and flooding. One area that has demonstrated a need for increasing awareness is weather-related wildfire preparedness. This is especially important for communities that reside in the wildland urban interface (WUI). Communities are in need of education and guidance on how to interpret, use and communicate fire weather information from the National Weather Service.

To address the growing need to improve preparedness and communications for communities at risk of wildfire and hazardous fire weather conditions, the NOAA NWS Riverton, WY forecast office implemented in 2008 a grassroots pilot project. The preparedness initiative Community Wildfire Awareness (CWA) (initially called WildFIRE) is designed to promote the awareness of hazardous fire weather conditions and the use of NWS fire weather forecasts and services. The CWA program is teaming up with efforts such as Firewise and Ready, Set, Go to provide a comprehensive preparedness program for communities. While other programs may focus on structure protection and evacuation efforts, the CWA program focuses on the reception, interpretation, and communication of fire weather information for a heightened level of awareness of potentially hazardous fire situations.

The Community Wildfire Awareness program will have wide reaching benefits by enabling communities to use NWS fire weather information to help promote readiness and enhance public awareness. The growing number of WUI identified communities across the country has validated the need for such preparedness efforts, and the National Weather Service hopes to expand this pilot program across the country to meet the need.

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