The first Saturday in May is usually marked by neighborhood and community events that bring people together to work on their wildfire mitigation efforts. Past projects and events that network members have organized for Community Wildfire Preparedness Day and other local- or state-designated wildfire preparedness events have included activities like community chipper days, evacuation drills, and educational programming centered around barbeques, and more.
Within the last month, many organizations recognized that the outbreak of COVID-19 would require a different approach to their outreach as well as planning for Community Wildfire Preparedness Day. Practitioners have asked “What should our messaging be right now?”, “How do we not overwhelm or scare our communities, while also not ignoring that we still have to prepare for wildfire?”, and “How do we continue to foster community connections and relationships we have helped establish?” among many other great questions.
Many practitioners are balancing how to be sensitive to the fact that so many lives have been disrupted and negatively impacted by COVID-19, while also knowing that the weather is warming in many places in the US and some places have already experienced wildfire this spring. Organizations and community leaders are grappling with serious impacts to our local communities and how to adjust to our changed realities, while still wanting to show up to inspire and support their neighbors to act on community wildfire adaptation work.
The intersection of COVID-19 and wildfire is going to be complex; we won’t be able to cover all of the dimensions and implications in a single blog post (although, a great start on some of the thoughts and guidance on this intersection is shared in the recent post by the Western Fire Chiefs Association). Today, we want to share some examples from around the country of how FAC Net members and partners are starting to tackle community messaging related to COVID-19, wildfire and Community Wildfire Preparedness Day.*
Bite-sized is Right-sized
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has released some helpful guidance and project ideas related to Community Wildfire Prep Day and produced a blog post about breaking up projects into smaller pieces to accomplish work over time. The first one is about work one can do on and around a deck and NFPA plans to write more of these as the spring continues.
Lake Tahoe, NV/CA
The Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities has been an important community connector and messenger. Even as COVID-19 began spreading, they realized that they could still bring this value of connection to their communities. They shifted their work to focus on virtual connections while following physical distancing guidelines. They announced that they would continue to connect with their communities by turning their newsletter into a “Preparing for Wildfire Indoors: Weekly Tip” series.
Carlie Murphy from the Tahoe Resource Conservation District said about the effort, “We’ve decided to increase the frequency of our newsletters to stay engaged and encourage people to use this time indoors to prepare for wildfire. We plan to continue sending newsletters with one tip each week until we’re able to get back into our local community. Because we still have lots of snow on the ground in Tahoe, we’re first focusing on things people can do indoors and plan to transition to things people can do outdoors when we can see the ground again.” At the time of writing this post, three newsletters had been published.
Carlie notes that their newsletters have been extremely well received by the community, local media, and their partners. They have also used social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram through their Living With Fire channels to reach an additional audience with some of the same messaging.
Fire Adapted New Mexico is a statewide network that helps connect and inspire residents and community leaders around fire adapted communities concepts. Similar to the Tahoe Network, Fire Adapted NM staff have adapted their newsletters to become a weekly blog post called “Wildfire Wednesdays” with the goal of “including things to do from home to prepare for fire, activities to pass the time, emergency preparedness tips, webinars about the upcoming fire season, and more.”
At the time of writing this post, Fire Adapted NM has published two blog posts. The first, on “staying connected” locally, and the second on “wildfire alerts and response.” Fire Adapted NM staff said this about the effort, “the biggest challenge has been prioritizing what content to put into [the blog posts], since we know all the things people could be doing right now, it’s hard to pick and choose and break it down into bite size pieces while balancing it with news-type content. Our main goal moving forward is to feature personal profiles and stories as the focal point.”
Sharing Social-Distancing-Appropriate Ideas for Community Wildfire Prep Day
A Strategies For Resilience resource list was developed by Fire Adapted Colorado Coordinator, Becca Samulski, to provide her state network members a variety of virtual and social-distancing compliant ideas that they could incorporate in to their Wildfire Prep Day. Here at FAC Net, we host virtual coffee meet-ups with practitioner members around the country multiple times per year since meeting in person isn’t an option usually. We are huge fans of virtual “face time” over coffee. (As a note, the Strategies For Resilience document was created in March. As the COVID-19 situation expands and evolves, certain activities may not make sense in your area. Please always make sure you are following the guidance of your local public health and emergency management agencies.)
Staying Open and Staying Safe
Ashland Fire and Rescue in Ashland, OR announced their local transfer stations’ 9th annual Green Debris Drop Off Day—which has historically taken place on the first Saturday of May—has been postponed so they can make COVID-19 appropriate modifications. This event normally requires a fleet of volunteers (often members of the Wildfire Safety Commission and Firewise USA® Communities) working in close quarters to check people in, direct traffic, and help unload green debris. To maintain social distancing, Ashland Fire and Rescue is working with the transfer station to hold the event on an alternate date (an upcoming Sunday in June when the transfer station is normally closed) so that updated social distancing guidelines can be taken into account. This date change will help maximize social distancing and balance the cost of staffing additional days. Other amendments they are making for their drop off days include:
- Opening up additional bays for green debris only, which further honors distancing requirements
- Making a web link voucher system where folks can sign up for one of multiple time slots to minimize crowding (which will be updated on their Green Debris Drop Off Day web page)
- Limiting the number of participants to 200 vouchers
- Clearly communicating with the public about not being able to provide volunteer unloading assistance, and
- Clearly communicating with the public that dates could change again based on COVID-19 progression.
Ashland Fire and Rescue is also sharing messaging about physical work that community members can do around their homes through their usual channels such as recurring articles in their local newspaper. They’re encouraging folks to show off their accomplishments this year by posting a photo of their wildfire risk reduction work to Ashland Fire and Rescue’s Facebook page, “Ashland Firewise” so they can celebrate their accomplishments together, virtually.
Virtual and Remote Learning
You may wonder why we didn’t specifically call out remote meetings in this post. Practitioners in the network are cleverly brainstorming ways to host virtual community and partner events. This includes everything from business resiliency workshops, to Firewise USA® neighborhood connection opportunities and Community Wildfire Protection Plan meetings. With a handful of creative virtual events still in the planning phase, we decided not to cover those events here as we think they deserve their own post, so stay tuned!
Useful, Reliable and Responsive Messaging
In closing, we want to suggest a few questions practitioners might consider when thinking about their outreach campaigns amidst a COVID outbreak:
- What are your partners saying right now and how can you complement or bolster each other’s efforts?
- What stage of COVID-19 response is your community in?
- What social and economic impacts are being experienced?
- What is your local weather like; is there still snow on the ground or are your residents already hearing about red flag days and burn bans?
It is always important to think about your audience when crafting your wildfire preparedness messages, but right now it is extra critical to ensure that our communities get consistent and reliable information and that we are aware of and responsive to their needs.
*Author’s Note: We know that not everyone is able to complete mitigation or preparedness activities in or around their homes due to various individual circumstances. Additionally, people are processing what is happening related to COIVD-19 in individual and varied ways. We know that healthcare and other essential employees are working overtime, and many others have lost their jobs. While many people have more time at home, we know that’s not true for everyone. We hope this post highlights some ways that network members are showing up for their communities as we figure out together how to continue engaging our communities and take action on wildfire preparedness. We recognize this post hasn’t met all of the needs of every community member. There is a lot of room for ideas about how to help the most vulnerable in our communities prepare for wildfire while also staying safe in a time where in-person physical connection is not advised. Our thoughts are with everyone impacted right now, and we invite you to comment below about how you are working on wildfire outreach or preparing for Community Wildfire Preparedness Day in your place!
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