The Forest Service Wildfire Crisis Strategy (WCS) sets ambitious goals to reduce risk to communities in the western United States by increasing fuel reduction treatments on and off Forest Service lands. A first step toward achieving these goals is to understand and quantify wildfire risk to the places people live and the critical infrastructure they can depend upon. Then we can evaluate whether treatments can reduce that risk and by how much. The specific types and locations of treatments can affect just how much, and how quickly, risk is reduced.

The Fire Modeling Institute (FMI), housed within the Rocky Mountain Research Station, has developed a new rigorous analytical framework, called RiskMonitor, based upon decades of work in risk management science to address the need for risk-based information throughout the fuels management cycle. RiskMonitor can help managers identify and treat the right acres in the right place with the most effective strategies to reduce risk to communities and infrastructure. This approach is a midscale framework, using roughly 25,000 acre summary units, that bridges the gap between broad scale evaluations of high-risk Firesheds and finer scale work with other datasets and analytical tools such as PODs and ForSys treatment optimization software that can help with design, layout, and scheduling of specific treatments and treatment prescriptions.

How the RiskMonitor Works

FMI built upon previous work done by RMRS scientists and the Risk Management Assistance (RMA) program, data products from the LANDFIRE program, and technical expertise from Pyrologix LLC to analyze risk reduction from varying types of fuel treatment.

With this new analytical RiskMonitor framework, FMI analysts first calculate the potential for loss (that is, risk) to communities and infrastructure that may occur due to wildfires. Analysts calculate this using exhaustive fire behavior simulations that generate probabilities of fire occurrence and intensities, both key elements in quantifying risk. These simulations also help the team identify areas of the landscape where future ignitions may be sources of that risk. Next, they alter landscape data to reflect conditions after standard fuel treatments and rerun the fire behavior simulations. Evaluating the difference between simulations allows analysts to calculate the effectiveness of treatments at reducing risk.

The results of these calculations, delivered as a series of maps, charts, and tabular summaries, can then facilitate conversations among managers, partners and the public about where fuel treatments may be effective for risk reduction. Results can also point out where treatments are unlikely to be effective and other strategies such as home hardening or increased prevention are needed to reduce risk. Additionally, this framework can be adapted to understand risk to ecological and other natural resources, such as water supply, critical habitat for specific species, recreation, and timber resources.

How the RiskMonitor supports Wildfire Crisis Landscapes

This work complements other tools, like the RMA dashboard, PODs, and Scenario Investment Planning. It operates at a scale relevant to strategy development on WCS landscapes, helps identify the most effective strategies for risk reduction in different parts of the landscape, and fosters conversation around all the elements required to reduce wildfire risk, not just fuel reduction treatments. This framework puts the risk mitigation solutions into the hands of managers and partners.

In collaboration with fire analysts in western Forest Service regions, the FMI team is engaging with managers on WCS landscapes to tailor analyses to reflect key concerns of that Landscape. The team is also using this framework to generate consistent measures of outcome performance on all WCS landscapes for the Washington Office and policymakers.

Managers can use RiskMonitor to go beyond thinking about just number of acres treated and look at where different strategies may be more or less effective at meeting risk reduction objectives. Other tools help managers know where risk is high, but this framework goes further by helping managers to think strategically about reducing risk to communities, then track their progress toward achieving that risk reduction.