Photo Credit: Photo of headphones with the following text imposed: FEMA Region 10 Podcast Featuring FAC Net.

Our partners at FEMA Region 10 recently produced a podcast focused on the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net). If you’ve been wondering about FAC Net’s history, how it operates, or the kinds of impacts it is having in communities, check out these summarized (and in a few cases, expanded!) excerpts from the conversation, or listen to the full podcast here.

FAC Net’s Origins and History

The network comes from two roots: a survey and assessment project that The Watershed Center did as part of the development of the Western Region Cohesive Strategy, and experiencing the power of a peer learning network as a long-time member of the Fire Learning Network.  In 2012 The Watershed Center conducted a survey of communities across the West about their fire adaptation work. Over 500 people responded and we learned a lot about the kinds of programs people were accessing to support their work. We learned about ways they were imagining what living with fire could mean, and we learned that because of competitive funding mechanisms people were often hoarding their great ideas because those were their competitive advantage. The trouble with that is, fire adaptation techniques should not be business-style trade secrets. Living better with fire is high stakes—for residents of fire-prone places, for fire managers and for taxpayers. We realized that we could facilitate meaningful relationships among fire adaptation practitioners and, by doing so, we could quickly spread the best ideas being put on the ground around the country.

What is FAC?

Sometimes people think about fire adapted communities as strengthening the built environment’s ability to withstand a fire—homes, evacuating people during an incident, trying to stop infrastructure from burning. This idea is framed from an emergency response and management vantage-point. If you’re an incident commander and your responsibility is to manage a fire in ways that protect lives and property, you’re going to want to go into a community where homes are built with fire resistant materials and maintained with defensible space. You’re going to want that population to evacuate when and where you need them to. You’re going to have a higher rate of success when people have done this work and prepared ahead of time. Your main measures of success are most likely related to limiting losses of life and property, and the safety of your fire-fighting workforce.

The trouble with this framing is that it’s too limited. Fire managers—even on big campaign fires—only interact with a place and the people that live there for a few weeks. If we re-frame the idea of FAC to look at a place and the people who live there over time and from their perspectives—before, during and after fires—you begin to realize that what we need to be working on are not just practices that reduce the risk of homes burning (though those are critical!) but also on things we can do to increase our resilience and connectivity. Do you know your neighbors? Is your Chamber of Commerce working to support business resilience related to smoke impacts? Do you have an organization or partnerships ready to support long-term recovery? This framing expands our thinking, and asks us to consider what it will take to live better with fire, not simply survive one. It allows us to zoom out, and account for both the safety of people and property in the relatively few days a year when active wildfire is at our doorstep, AND ALSO addresses our resilience the other 364 days a year.

What is FAC Net?

People need inspiration and support. If you have a network of partners you can call and talk to honestly about your successes and failures, “I tried to {insert your latest effort here} and it didn’t work how I thought it was going to. Do you have any advice?” then you have set up the conditions for improvement and change. When we kicked off the network in 2013: “I realized that our job as the staff and conveners of this network was to deeply learn about the work of all of our members. We could come with a totally alternative approach and tell people, “These are the things you need to do. This is what works.” But that’s really antithetical to the whole idea of fire adapted communities. It has to spring from within the place. It has to be tailored to what the resources and assets are of the place. The foundational principle of those first couple of years was really just understanding that these people {our members} are the people who are shaping fire adapted communities. These are the experts. These are the people who are on the frontline of defining a new way to live with fire.”  – Michelle Medley-Daniel

How Does the Network Work?
  • Member Gatherings: Our annual workshop is the crown jewel of FAC Net’s work. Staff frequently hear from members that the workshop is “the most valuable work {members} do all year.” The objectives of the workshops always include deepening and strengthening relationships; better understanding fire adaptation practices; and asking the hard questions about what’s going on in our sector and changing about our contexts. We use the workshop to adjust our trajectory at the national-level, and it is a time for our members to set local priorities and describe ways the network could support those.
  • Staff Support and Coaching: Every single core FAC Net member has an appointed staff person whose job it is to coach those people to provide support. Liaisons add capacity by assisting with projects, co-designing convenings, and championing and elevating member work. Maybe most importantly, staff do the net-weaving, which is part of a high-functioning network. If you want to transfer ideas, you have to know who knows what and what they’re looking to learn. Our staff act as a kind of human-Rolodex making the critical connections among members who can help each other.
  • Virtual Workspace for Members: FAC Net hosts a virtual learning platform (a Podio workspace), where people can share and ask questions. People often go onto Podio and pose questions like, “has anyone ever tried to run an evacuation drill?” That person will typically get six or seven responses from other network members right away. Podio facilitates immediate feedback from peers across the country and allows for asynchronous engagement–meaning we don’t have to have the same five minutes available in the day in order to connect.
  • Learning Exchanges: You can’t underestimate the power of visiting a peer’s place and learning about their work there. Ali Lerch and Chris Chambers share some of their thoughts about learning exchanges: “We had a three-part learning exchange where we went from Leavenworth in north-central Washington, Bend, and then to Ashland. One of the things that WAFAC is really excelling in is talking about post fire recovery and resiliency and long-term planning for businesses and organizations. It just really wasn’t something that we were doing yet in the city of Ashland. I was able to attend a long-term recovery and business resiliency workshop that was hosted by {Pacific Northwest FAC Net members}. I was able to bring a member of our Chamber of Commerce to that workshop as well. And basically that just opened all the doors to a lot of the conversations and work that we’ve been having with our task force.” –Ali Lerch

“We’re all really in the same boat together, whether we’re working in Florida, somewhere in Texas, or the upper Midwest. Yes, there are some differences in those places, but the way that we approach our programs and the people that we’re working with and for is so similar that it really, really makes sense for us to learn from our peers.”–Chris Chambers

How Can You Get Involved?

We have a wonderful opportunity for anyone working on fire adaptation and community resilience issues. In addition to the core network, which requires a very significant contribution of time and dedication, we developed something called the affiliate network, which is an opportunity for any practitioner in the US to self-select and say, “I really need to share what I’m doing and learn from other practitioners who are trying to live with fire.” You can go to our website: and sign up to become an affiliate member. There you can share the activities that you’re doing, get connected with other practitioners, share insights and ask questions. FAC Net staff do a lot of netweaving and facilitate mentorship connections between the affiliate network and the core network to ensure that capacity building is part of our design and impact.

Be sure to listen to the podcast for more insight, and to hear a fantastic original poem written and performed by network member, Pablo Beimler.

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