Evaluation of fire forecast products to enhance US drought preparedness and response

As the scientific community clarifies its understanding of how climate and wildfire interact, an increasing amount of effort and resources are being spent to deliver this science to the US wildfire community. One model that has shown great promise consists of the National Seasonal Assessment workshops and the Significant Fire Potential Outlooks produced during these annual workshops and monthly conference calls. However, it is not well documented who uses these outlooks, how they use them, or if the outlooks provide any economic benefit.

This cross-RISA (CLIMAS, CAP, ACCAP) drought project assessed the impact the NSAW seasonal and monthly fire outlooks have on decision makers across the agencies who collaborate to plan for and manage wildfires in the Western U.S.

This project evaluated who is using these outlooks and how they are being used in order to:

  • provide immediate (next year) input into the production and distribution of these products
  • begin to build a seasonal fire decision analysis framework to help identify where additional resources are most efficiently spent by better understanding and quantifying uncertainties in current decision making.

The project team used social network analysis (SNA) and semi-structured interviews to evaluate the impact of the NSAW outlooks on decision making at the national level and at the Southwest and Alaskan regional levels. SNA includes various tools and methods to study the patterns of relations between actors and groups in a network, which will help us to:

  • Identify a network of people who use the seasonal and monthly outlooks. By interviewing the people in this network, we will understand how the outlooks are used in decision making and how the outlooks could better suit their needs.
  • Identify how fire and drought related information is processed, interpreted, and disseminated within the network. This information will be used to improve the fire outlooks for subsequent fire seasons.
  • Identify unconnected networks working on fire and drought-related themes. We may discover networks whose members are working on similar issues, but are not yet connected to one another due to some kind of barrier (e.g., communication, geographic, hierarchical).

Promote innovation through communication with other drought-related networks. Connecting these networks with one another could lead to new products, processes or initiatives regarding national drought/fire policy or local drought/fire management.

Our goal is to better understand not only the context for these decisions, but also where the key uncertainties in decision-making reside so that we can begin to construct a decision framework to identify optimal fire management activities for use by National Interagency Coordination Center and Predictive Service units across the U.S.

While we focused our local investigations in the Southwest and Alaska, this process and our findings can be applied to other Geographic Area Coordination Centers across the U.S., as well as to NIDIS programs that seek to understand flows of information and decision contexts for applying climate information to decision making.