Avoiding Wildfire Disasters: Preparedness and Recovery
By Jamie Albrecht
The 2020 California wildfire season set records for the most catastrophic fire season. The 2021 fire season is currently on track to exceed its damage.
Wildfires have severe impacts on frontline communities. People with low incomes are more likely to lose their homes and struggle to recover. People who are undocumented receive little support to prepare or recover. Evacuation is harder for those who don’t speak English, people with disabilities and seniors.
Planned power-shutoffs are common occurrences as an attempt to limit fire ignition on risky days, yet losing electricity for hours or days at a time is devastating for people with certain medical conditions, and families on fixed incomes often lose food that they cannot spare.
Wildfire has always been part of the California ecosystem. Native Americans have always used fire as a tool to care for the land and prevent wildfires, a practice called cultural burning. We can manage fire risk through design, construction and ongoing careful operation and stewardship of infrastructure, land sites and housing.
Through our Community Powered Resilience program, we know it’s critical for the people most impacted to create the solutions. Grounded in the experience, expertise and partnership with frontline communities, we've compiled resources and tools below to help keep your family, your residents, your community and California safe from wildfire disasters.
Key resources for immediate needs
- Guide to Disaster Assistance Services for Immigrant Californians
- Disaster Help for Homeowners from Fannie Mae
- California Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
- DisasterAssistance.gov to find out if you’re eligible for financial assistance
- Places offering immediate financial support and accepting donations for the Dixie Fire
Actions for individuals and households
- Determine if you live in a fire-prone area by viewing this map from Cal Fire. Cal Fire is updating the maps, and we expect more areas at fire risk.
- Use this map from the California Office of Emergency Services that shows which hazards are common in your area.
- Sign up for emergency alerts.
- Check your renters or homeowners insurance policy to see if you are protected from fire risk.
- Harden your home and plan for wildfires.
- From Cal Fire, here are low-cost and no-cost ways to harden homes and protect them against wildfires.
- Listos California has guidance in multiple languages.
- Use this legislative tracker to read about disaster and climate change bills and call your representatives about them.
Actions for community-based organizations and housing providers
- Mitigate fire risk to your properties so that you can continue to serve your communities. These publications provide information on preparing for wildfires.
- Check into the funding from the California Office of Emergency Services Home Hardening Program.
- Get involved in local planning processes that impact fire and other disaster resilience. Learn about these planning processes from the Association of Bay Area Governments.
- Work with your community to create a Wildfire Response Plan. Here’s a great example from Home Forward. Reach out to your local Office of Emergency Services for support in creating the plan.
- Use the Enterprise Ready to Respond Toolkit to create a business continuity plan for your residents, buildings and operations.
- Invest in backup power and alternative energy sources to serve your community's needs during a power shutoff. Create a plan for power shutoffs.
- Apply for CalHome Disaster Assistance, which serves disaster survivor households earning up to 120 percent of area median income.
Actions for local government
- Ensure that all fire warnings are available in all languages spoken in your locale.
- Ensure that frontline communities have a place to go and receive support during a power shutoff.
- Support affordable housing and higher density growth in in-fill locations that aren’t impacted by wildfire risk. Be sure to look into other hazard risks, too.
- Create stronger defensible space requirements and offer support to make it achievable for low-income households. Use Community Emergency Response Teams or other volunteers to help meet the needs of frontline communities.
- Apply for CalHome Disaster Assistance.
- Apply for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Post Fire, if your locality has received Fire Management Assistance Grant from FEMA, to take actions to reduce future wildfire risk.
- Develop and enforce strict protections for tenants, like a moratorium on evictions, that are applicable before, during and after a wildfire. Read more recommendations like this one from the North Bay Organizing Project.
- Create local and regional community preference policies that give residents displaced by disasters a greater chance of returning. The City of Santa Monica has one for its affordable housing units.
- Conduct pre-disaster recovery planning in partnership with community-based organizations.
- Create more job training programs for wildfire mitigation and response, like the Central Valley Forestry Corps.
Actions for philanthropy
- Read this guidance from Justice Funders on how philanthropy can dismantle white supremacy and move towards a just transition.
- Develop a fund for creating defensible spaces that will go to frontline communities, with very low-barrier application requirements.
- Look for opportunities to support the government’s fire resilience work with frontline communities by offering to support engagement, outreach and data collection.
- Invest in strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including solar power and public transportation. Community gardens are a great way to do this and provide food for people during power shutoffs.
- Give to Native organizing efforts and movements to regain stewardship of land.
- Support the development of more affordable housing in high-density areas that are less impacted by wildfires.
- Work with community-based organizations, affordable housing developers and local government to create post-disaster temporary to permanent housing for frontline communities. RAPIDO is a great example of this type of housing.
- Support disaster-related social programs that the government doesn’t reach
- Mutual aid programs that get people necessary items quickly
- Organizations that support people who are undocumented and immigrants
- Mental health services post-disaster, as intimate partner violence increases dramatically during disasters
- Provide transportation support for people who need to evacuate and travel away from home
About our Community Powered Resilience program
Disasters don’t treat all people equally. Frontline communities – Black, Indigenous and people of color, immigrants, non-English speakers, people with lower incomes, people with disabilities and seniors – are impacted more severely by disasters due to historic patterns of discrimination.
Our Community Powered Resilience program is creating a participatory and inclusive model for equitable disaster resilience and recovery that centers frontline communities and shapes planning for future disasters in California. We offer convenings and collaboration, policy, process development, advocacy and technical assistance using effective, user-friendly tools.
Look out for our signature website with user-friendly tools and actions steps coming this fall!
For more information about the tips and tools and our Community Powered Resilience Program, contact Jamie Albrecht at email@example.com.