Today, May 6, is National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. The City of Austin held a seminar this morning to discuss the latest efforts to improve the community's readiness for wildfires, held at the Austin Board of Realtors office. As you can see from the agenda, this was a very robust discussion:
What impressed me the most about this presentation was the city's emphasis on creating a culture of wildfire preparedness. The leadership of the Austin Fire Department readily conceded it cannot make the city prepared for wildfires on its own - citizens must do their part by working with their neighborhood to establish FireWise communities which can, among other things, reduce your homeowners' insurance premiums.
As one speaker put it: think of FireWise as your neighborhood watch for wildfire threats.
For those of us who live in the wildland-urban interface (WUI, which is pronounced WOO-eee), wildfires are a significant concern. Note the definition of WUI can be quite broad:
The WUI is not a place, per se, but a set of conditions that can exist in nearly every community. It can be a major subdivision or it can be four homes on an open range. According to the National Fire Protection Association, conditions include (but are not limited to): the amount, type, and distribution of vegetation; the flammability of the structures (homes, businesses, outbuildings, decks, fences) in the area, and their proximity to fire-prone vegetation and to other combustible structures; weather patterns and general climate conditions; topography; hydrology; average lot size; and road construction. The WUI exists in every state in the country.
I was really pleased to see so many homeowners and neighborhood associations with significant WUI exposure represented at today's seminar. This is exactly the type of event and type of citizen participation we need to create a broader culture of preparedness.
I'd love to see some sort of "community watch" program - combining the efforts of neighborhood watches, FireWise activities, severe weather awareness, emergency communications and first aid training - into a larger program where communities work to mitigate multiple hazards rather than just focusing on one or two. The enthusiasm I saw at today's meeting makes me think that concept is viable with the right leadership and planning.
Once we're moved into the new place in a couple of weeks and get settled in, I'm looking forward to getting more involved with my new neighbors to address how we can be more prepared for wildfires and other emergencies.
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