California Community Wildfire Resilience Roundtables
2017–2021 HAVE BEEN IMPACTFUL AND DESTRUCTIVE wildfire years in California, with significant wildfires, damage, and fatalities. The Tubbs fire, at that time the most destructive wildfire on record for California, burned almost 37,000 acres, destroyed 5,600 structures with an economic loss of $1.2B. In 2017, 45 civilians and 2 firefighters lost their lives. While many hoped we had seen the worst fire season for many years, damages in 2017 were exceeded in 2018, when 8,527 wildfires burned an area of 1,893,913 acres, with insurance claims alone exceeding $12B. There were 95 fatalities in the 2018 wildfire season in California. Already in 2020, over 4 million acres have burned and 31 lives have been lost.
Unfortunately, the worst we have seen in the past several years was not the worst. 2020 has already seen the largest number of fires and acres burned in California history, with over 700 active fires after a dry lightening storm in August. 2021 matched 2020 in severity of fires. The worst we will see in future years.
The vulnerability of the electrical grid to wildfire has yet to be fully addressed. Current warming and precipitation trends related to climate change, the long-lasting impacts from drought conditions in the state (and the likelihood of more frequent drought events), and the potential growth of human populations in wildfire-prone areas due to the current housing crisis, will more frequently create the conditions that set up the destructive events in 2017 and 2018 and exceed these events. The ecological, economic, and human costs of these wildfire events are unacceptably high.
In the first years of this collaboration under an initial grant from Desert Research Institute, the GLEN convened several stakeholder workshops to define the problem scope and lay out possibilities for roundtable impact. Now is 2022 the collaboration team is preparing proposals for a second round of funding.
Moving forward, we must ask three key questions 1) What is driving wildfire fatalities? 2) What do wildfire resilient communities look like? and 3) How do we successfully build those communities?
We propose to design and convene a roundtable on Wildfire Resilience in California Communities. Given the destruction and fatalities involved in the past several fire seasons, we feel it is imperative to create a mechanism where experts from large number of sectors (not just wildfire and emergency services) convene for an in-depth and novel approach to answer these two questions. The key to effectively bringing together scientists and practitioners from diverse sectors is to do so in a careful and deliberately facilitated process that relies on deep theoretical grounding in group dynamics and has a proven track record. The Global Learning Exchange Network (GLEN) approach blends relationship building with dialogue and visualization to support systemic understanding of the problem and breakthrough recommendations.
This project is oriented around a substantial series of facilitated, in-person meetings across a two-year period to 1) provide an opportunity for in-depth conversation and exploration to scope this accelerating problem; 2) time for in-depth information gathering and insight generation across key exploration areas with support from the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center and the GLEN; 3) collectively, develop a systems level view of the problem, and potential solutions; 4) provide a set of recommendations to enhance wildfire community resilience to state, local, and federal agencies; and 5) design a process for effectively disseminating these key recommendations.
Fundamental to this project is identifying and engaging with participants who can provide expertise and insight from a large number of sectors. Typically, these sectors are often “siloed” from each other in ways that create barriers to collaboration, problem identification and resolution. Given the recent wildfire events, wildfire community resilience is a problem that is not tractable by traditional means. Asking a single or even several agencies to solve this problem is unrealistic. To make progress on answering our key questions, we must successfully design a process that creates connections between agencies, sectors, and topical knowledge. In this project we propose to identify individuals who can represent insurance, wildfire, structural fire, emergency managers, municipal planners, housing experts (including low income), real estate developers, tribal communities, scientists, air quality, water purveyors, and infrastructure experts. We expect additional sectors will be identified in initial design stages of the project, as well.
The proposed project takes a novel approach, using visually facilitated dialogue and problem mapping to support roundtable participants to develop and share new understandings and breakthrough thinking.
The visual mapping predictably creates common ground and the well-facilitated dialogue a trusting environment among the participants.
All of the in-person meetings will be facilitated using GLEN expertise.
• 0–3 MONTHS: Process design to clarify approach and invitation process, participant selection and invitation, develop a roundtable charter, create outreach plan/ identify outcomes and impacts.
• YEAR 1: Four one-day meetings focused on 1) understanding the issues 2) create subgroups to research specific questions/areas, define the problem scope.
• YEAR 2: Summarizing findings and preparing for a second round of funding. Draft roundtable process design.
• Virtual subcommittee meetings as needed.
1. Visual meeting reports from each in-person meeting.
2. Set of recommendations in a final report from the two-year process.
3. Draft process plan for future roundtables.
4. Second round proposal and organization of more extensive gatherings.
5. Outreach and engagement plan to disseminate final recommendations.
6. Evaluation of the process as a model for addressing other climate change adaptation issues in California, regionally, and nationally.
Problem Scope Emerging from Initial Workshops
Several workshops with fire experts identified the problems illustrated in this graphic and where roundtables might be helpful.
Key Action Learning Objectives
The questions shown in the scope document above are evolving as a result of the initial roundtables. Current potential focus include:
1) How can future wildland/urban developments be guided to be wildfire resistant?
2) What regional differences need to be respected?
3) How are leaders, organizations, and policies both supporting and resisting communities in developing resilience in response to wildfire challenges?
How to Contribute
There are two ways to support this GLEN Collaboration.
1. You can contribute financially to help this project succeed. The Donate button will take you to a contribution form. All donations are tax deductible and will be used directly on this project.
2. You can also get involved with the core team and together we will determine how you can best support this endeavor. The time and effort involved is an outgrowth of how much commitment and interest is being invested. Learning and personal reward on these projects emerges from a facilitated interweaving of synergy, expertise, surprise, and passion.
Inquire About Collaborating
This information will be shared with the collaboration hosts and GLEN Co-Directors who will respond personally and explore what is possible.