Foundations for Improving Resilience in the Energy Sector against Wildfires on Alaskan Lands (FIREWALL)
In recent years, Alaska has witnessed high-intensity wildfires that often grow to tens or hundreds of thousand acres within days, both in remote, sparsely populated rural areas and close to population centers. Wildfires are projected to increase due to climate change and present new and emerging risks to Alaskan energy infrastructure and communities needing electricity for daily life and health services. Alaska is especially vulnerable to wildfires due to its isolated electricity grid, fire-prone boreal forests, and extreme fire behavior, as well as the critical dependence of its rural communities on electricity for health and year-round food supply. There is an urgent need to empower Arctic communities, electric utilities, emergency responders, and health organizations to collaboratively share resources and exchange information for improved situational awareness and resilience against wildfires. The FIREWALL research project will advance the knowledge on (1) how elements of the natural environment, energy infrastructure, and social systems interact with one another before, during, and following wildfires, and (2) how to enable a collaborative framework for decision-making and communication among multi-sectoral stakeholders to reduce wildfire risks faced by communities and electric utilities.
The FIREWALL project will develop a risk-informed decision-making platform that integrates (1) formation, short-term prediction, and spatiotemporal propagation analysis of wildfires on Alaskan lands, (2) Alaska’s electricity network planning, preparedness, response, and mitigation facing wildfires, and (3) community health and social vulnerability metrics. The project will establish a shared understanding of the problem by engaging in focus groups, listening sessions, and surveys with community partners. The decision-making platform will be evaluated in a range of short-term and long-term use cases for the electric utilities, forestry managers, and emergency responders under different fire regimes, and will be tested in a number of wildfire-prone geographical zones in Alaska. The project outcomes will bridge the gap between social and environmental challenges with community-in-the-loop engineering solutions for wildfire resilience, and provide Arctic residents with numerous educational opportunities. The education activities include outreach to K-12 teachers and students, and training the multi-sectoral stakeholders using the FIREWALL platform products to facilitate a smooth transition for deployment in practice. The project will have the potential to form holistic integrated roadmaps that can enhance public safety and resilience of the mission-critical lifeline infrastructure in Alaska and beyond when facing future wildfire disasters.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.