Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today has an interesting post on a new Wildfire Risk map. Some commenters were not too impressed based on their ground-truthing. Wouldn’t it be wise to “ground-truth before touting the accuracy of maps” rather than putting them out and telling everyone they’re correct? Is that way crazy? So Wildfire Today did some testing and so did the commenters. The results were generally not good.
It seems like modelers are driving way beyond their headlights… and acting if their models are somehow.. real.. Here’s what it says.. “Past events, current risks, and future projections based on peer-reviewed research from the world’s leading flood, fire, and climate modelers.”
Here’s their argument for why they exist:
What makes First Street Foundation unique
- Custom built models to calculate property-level climate risk statistics
- Transparent, peer-reviewed methodology that’s proven against real environmental events
- Validated by millions of users every day who continuously improve the data and science
- Easy-to-understand experience that’s trusted by industry leaders
- Building details and structure characteristics are used to customize information for your specific property
Institutional real estate investors and insurers have long had access to environmental risk data from for-profit oligopolies who use non-transparent methodologies that do not advance science and which limit access to risk information for the country. Because of this, the majority of Americans have relied on sources such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Forest Service, and other public agencies to understand their risk. However, these agencies are not tasked with defining risk for individual properties, do not consider how environmental changes impact that risk in the near-term future, and are often unable to incorporate the latest science due to the bureaucratic and regulatory restrictions within which they operate, leaving millions of households and property owners unaware of their true risk.
There has long been an urgent need for accurate, property-level, publicly available environmental risk information in the United States based on open source, peer reviewed science. In a mission to fill that need, First Street Foundation has built a team of leading modelers, researchers, and data scientists to develop the first comprehensive, publicly available risk models in the United States. Beginning with flood and now wildfire, First Street works to correct the asymmetry of information in the market, empowering Americans to protect their most valuable asset–their home while working with industry and government entities to inform them of their risk.
It’s great that they’re not a “for-profit oligopoly” but who funds them and what are their interests? I can’t really tell based on this.. because 990 reading is not in my skill set.
My house for example, was always at risk of wildfire. Because we live in a dry climate and things.. dry out. That’s probably why my insurance company has contracted with a private structure protection outfit. When fires start (mostly due to human ignition) the key variables are 1) wind, 2) fuel (houses, grass grazed or not, trees?) 3) how fast suppression folks get there, 3) if it’s too windy for air suppression resources, 4) how much grazing reduced fuels, 5) wind (did I mention that?). So wind is a big deal.
What about wind and climate change? That appears to be a can of worms, partially because it seems like researchers are interested in questions like “will changes in wind speed affect energy from wind turbines?” And also because.. it doesn’t seem like they know. I did find a paper from 2019..by Jeong and Sushama.. “Projected Changes to Mean and Extreme Surface Wind Speeds for North America Based on Regional Climate Model Simulations.”
The IPCC , however, reported that projected changes to extreme wind speeds based on GCMs are more uncertain than those to mean wind speeds because of relatively fewer studies on extreme wind speeds and the difficulties in simulating these events with GCMs.
And yet, the folks at First Street Foundation tell me..that my house will go from .07 to .22 in 30 years. But they haven’t actually modelled, nor can they, the most critical factors. As they say..
Risk Factor™️ is most powerful when used in conjunction with the FEMA flood maps, WildFire.org, and other available state and local risk resources. Risk Factor should be viewed as complementary to the federally adopted risk maps for a community, which need to be used for building and permitting purposes. Risk Factor™️ allows individuals to easily view risk information at the property level, and provides useful information on potential actions to mitigate risk. More information on each community’s risk maps and mitigation plans, however, can be best obtained by contacting the community’s floodplain manager or local fire department.
The question is does is add any value to federally adopted risk maps? What does the map tell you about your house, and does it make sense?