College - Author 1
College of Architecture and Environmental Design
Department - Author 1
City and Regional Planning Department
The problem at hand. Between 2003 and 2021, the top 10 costliest wildland fires in the United States all occurred in California. One in four Californians 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 follow many different types of plans (e.g., General Plan with required Safety Element; Hazard Mitigation Plan, Community Wildfire Protection Plan), each with its own set of policies and implementation scheme; generally, these are “siloed” and lack integration. This is especially true with regard to hazards, and in particularly the WUI fire hazard that is addressed by several agencies and plans, but without sufficient collaboration and spatial understanding of the heterogeneous effects of policy across a community.
A proposed solution. To address the many-plan-little-integration dilemma, this project focuses on applying the Plan Integration for Resilience Scorecard™ (PIRS) method to California jurisdictions that are subject to the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fire hazard. This a method that spatially evaluates networks of plans to strengthen a jurisdiction’s resilience and reduce vulnerability to hazards. It provides a pathway to systematically evaluate and then adjust multiple policies to improve the focus and coordination of plans on building resilience in the most vulnerable locations. The process aims to harmonize a jurisdiction’s network of plans to support community priorities that lower risk from hazards.
With support from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and an initial focus on flood hazards, the PIRS™ method was first applied in several East and Gulf Coast cities and in the Netherlands. FEMA later used the process to conduct vulnerability analysis in the Southern U.S., and the American Planning Association (APA) has adopted it and developed an online course to teach PIRS™ to its members. NOAA recently provided support for urban heat island hazard analysis using the PIRS™ method for a pilot in several cities.
WUI fire 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. Through building a scorecard supported by a spatial framework, policies that support risk reduction are made visible, while that those are in conflict with a risk reduction strategy are called out. . This network is unique to a jurisdiction, in that it spans departmental objectives. Finally, physical and social vulnerability are determined for each of the districts and compared to the policy scores. Conceptualizing how WUI fire, as a hazard, becomes part of the land use planning process will be of this project’s main contributions.
The project team will work with four California jurisdictions over a two-year period, using a multidisciplinary team of faculty associated with the Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo WUI Fire Institute and the Texas A&M Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provides support for this effort.
Matthew Malecha, PhD, Texas A&M University
February 1, 2023.