Wildfire preparedness and evacuation planning in a pandemic: Case studies from California and Colorado
In 2020, the western United States experienced profound impacts from compound hazards. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed how wildfire preparedness, evacuation planning, response, and recovery efforts were implemented across the United States in 2020. As of June 2021, these changes continue to have far reaching but inadequately understood impacts on the social, ecological, and public health dimensions of life in the United States.
This report seeks to address knowledge gaps and enable institutions and communities across the western United States to adapt to the evolving wildfire-pandemic interface in 2021, and beyond. The report presents key findings, conclusions, and recommendations from a longitudinal research study on wildfire preparedness and evacuation planning in a pandemic.
The research examined how communities in two locations at high risk from wildfires – Nevada County in California and Larimer County in Colorado – perceived and practiced safety as they prepared for wildfires (June – August 2020) and recovered from wildfires (November 2020 – February 2021) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research findings emphasize the need to develop a convergent approach to address compound hazards. This will be especially important as communities in the western United States cope with extreme drought, high wildfire risk, poor air quality, and public safety power shutoffs, amid the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing instability, food insecurity, and racial injustice.
The report presents a conceptual framework to characterize the evolving wildfire-pandemic interface along three interrelated dimensions: social, ecological, and public health. It makes the case for why policy, programs, and research will need to converge around a better understanding of these dimensions to comprehensively address the evolving wildfire-pandemic interface in inclusive, just, and equitable ways.
The report identifies key recommendations that can apply to locations across the western United States, and perhaps, globally. It is hoped these recommendations can guide the development of more collaborative, agile, and responsive strategies for wildfire risk reduction to enable social, ecological, and public health and well-being outcomes.
Recommendations for 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed how wildfire preparedness, evacuation planning, response, and recovery efforts were implemented across the western United States in 2020.
The western United States is likely to experience another severe wildfire season in 2021. Even as communities get vaccinated over the next months, and the pandemic seemingly recedes, there remains uncertainty around community preparedness and evacuation planning in a pandemic.
It will be important to comprehensively prepare ‘whole of community’ for the evolving nature of the wildfire-pandemic interface in inclusive, just, and equitable ways.
Fortunately, important lessons can be applied from the past year. As we mark Wildfire Preparedness Day (May 1), here are some recommendations for the months ahead.
Based on longitudinal research (June 2020 – February 2021) conducted in Nevada County, California, and Larimer County, Colorado, this research brief recommends 22 priority actions across 9 areas and 3 cross-cutting dimensions for communities working to reduce wildfire risk while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also look out for the complete report later this month!
On this International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction #DRRday let's talk governance. Acknowledging the promising initiatives underway in California, here are some thoughts on implementing a ‘Policy, People, Places’ approach to wildfire governance. #ItsAllAboutGovernance