What will it take to prevent the next wildfire disaster?

The spread and intensity of the wildfires raging in California call for a far higher level of fire prevention, containment, and disaster management than the state has had previously. Property owners and developers, fire departments, utilities, and other entities need to strengthen collaboration, and revisit building codes and insurance industry practices, according to experts at Wharton and the University of California, Berkeley.

firefighters in remaining archway of a destroyed building with side of firetruck in foreground

At last count, three major fires are still active in the state, claiming 44 lives and destroying more than 7,000 properties as they burned through more than 220,000 acres. The state has “Red Flag” warnings in place, which means conditions are ripe for further fires. President Trump issued a “Major Disaster Declaration” for California, responding to a request from Gov. Jerry Brown over the weekend. Such a declaration enables the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide a variety of federal assistance programs.

“We need to figure out ways where the State of California, insurers, utilities, and residents can take steps to reduce these losses in the future,” said Howard Kunreuther, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions, and co-director of the school’s Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.

A number of efforts are already underway in fire prevention and management in the state. The governor set up a forest management task force, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is investing in expanding its air fleet, and the state is an active participant in the Firewise USA program of The National Fire Protection Association, which focuses on educating the public about fire and loss prevention.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.