Is Your City at Risk of Losing Future Grants?

Athena Intelligence
5 min readApr 16, 2024

Wildfire Mitigation, PMELS Compliance & Changes to Grant Funding

For communities reliant on grants to fund for wildfire mitigation, integrating PMELS, or tracking of compliance with the recommended mitigation actions, is important to securing continued support. PMELS is an acronym for Performance Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Systems. PMELS has been part of most grant making processes and government funded programs but has been lacking from most community wildfire planning.

The essence of PMELS is:

  1. Tracking what was done.
  2. Evaluating the impact.
  3. Learning what worked, didn’t work and refining the plan for the next cycle.

By systematically monitoring, evaluating, and learning from grant-funded projects, communities can demonstrate accountability and improve their chances in future rounds of grant making. Think of PMELS as Continuous Improvement, in the context of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP) which will enhance the community’s resilience. Adopting PMELS is relatively easy on the front end and will empower communities to more effectively navigate grant compliance requirements and compete for future grants.

Today, many communities specify the areas where mitigation is to occur but accept pictures and maps from the contractors for work done, rather than biomass removed or mulched expressed in quantifiable numbers.

PMELS — What?

Performance Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Systems (PMELS) has been slow entering wildfire management practice but is now gaining attention of government and private grantors.

As you know, wildfires pose a significant threat to ecosystems, communities, and economies worldwide. In recent years, the frequency and intensity of wildfires have increased, driven by factors like climate change, land-use practices, and population growth in fire-prone areas. Megafires are not a new type of catastrophe, but as their frequency has increased, the research into the most effective wildfire mitigation strategies has not kept up. It is essential that communities capture information about their mitigation efforts to allow the analysis of the relative effectiveness of various approaches on minimizing the devastating impacts of these events.

Wildfire mitigation encompasses a range of activities aimed at reducing the risk and impact of wildfires. This includes fuel management, community preparedness, fire suppression efforts, and ecosystem restoration. The largest source of government grants for these efforts is the USDA’s Forestry Service.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/fire

By including a systematic approach to monitor, evaluate and learn from the mitigation actions (PMELS), communities can demonstrate the effective use of grant dollars, identify areas for improvement, pursue best practices and adapt strategies based on lessons learned.

PMELS — So What?

Step One: Tracking

Monitoring is the systematic collection and analysis of data related to wildfire mitigation activities. This includes what type of mitigation (biomass removal, mulching, animal grazing of grasslands, prescribed burns, fuel breaks, etc.), the areas covered and the timing and cycling of doing and redoing the action. This also includes community outreach programs — for campers, hikers and schools.

By establishing baseline data and measuring actions, the opportunity to evaluate the impact of interventions becomes possible.

Step Two: Evaluation

Evaluation entails assessing the effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of wildfire mitigation efforts. This includes the assessments of the mitigation strategies, policies, and programs to determine their impact on reducing wildfire risk and enhancing community resilience.

Since wildfires do not hit the same areas every year, affiliating with researchers doing meta-analysis, within your county and with other communities in similar bioregions, will provide the best statistical analysis and the development of best practices. (Check out this article’s comment section for researchers in your area.)

The goal of evaluation, obviously, is to identify what works, what doesn’t, and why, enabling the development best practices and better resource allocation on the grant side. For those using Living CWPPs or otherwise having their mitigation efforts tracked by Athena Intelligence, where the information about mitigation actions may be shared with those evaluating the risk in a community (ie. insurers or real estate investors), the effectiveness of the mitigation can have an impact on the economic vitality of the community. Online Living CWPPs enable municipal managers to make informed decisions while sharing insight with the broader community.

Step Three: Learning

Evaluation should lead to learning: the synthesizing and disseminating of best practices, lessons learned, innovative approaches and prioritization based on the most impactful and cost-effective approaches to wildfire mitigation. Fostering a culture of continuous learning, where CWPPs, community awareness and PMELS are combined, will create neighborhoods which can adapt to changing conditions, anticipate future challenges, and build resilience to wildfires over the long term.

Communities should make clear their expectations for data, to be shared with researchers and grantors, when contracting with firms providing mitigation actions. This is essential for enhancing the effectiveness of PMELS in wildfire mitigation. This involves asking for the information and developing the understanding and tracking system. This is the key to managing and utilizing monitoring and evaluation systems which support data collection and reporting.

Sharing the data will allow researchers to produce new analysis of various mitigation actions. Needless to say, analyzing data collected through PMELS will improve decision-making and guide future policy and practice. Researchers will synthesize data from multiple communities, identifying patterns, drawing actionable insights to improve future wildfire mitigation efforts.

PMELS —Now What?

Adding a tracking component to a CWPP creates a modest increase in expenses to the grant recipient and the service provider doing the mitigation action. However, the PMELS component sets the community up for more successful future grants.

So far, PMELS has only been required of Federal Grants on Tribal Lands, in some reporting to PUCs by electric utilities and, again only to some degree, for home hardening through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) program (see California Wildfire Mitigation Plan or CWMP).

While these PMELS requirements are currently nascent, we expect them to increase in future years as they are in the best interest of neighborhoods, municipalities and taxpayers. Creating the baseline and expectations today, will help communities with future wildfire mitigation grants.

Realizing the full potential of PMELS requires ongoing data collection, analysis, and expectation of new insights to ensure that lessons learned are translated into meaningful action on the ground. Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to continuous improvement, we can mitigate the threat of wildfires and protect our communities and ecosystems.

Athena Intelligence is a data vendor with a geospatial, conditional, profiling tool that pulls together vast amounts of disaggregated wildfire and environmental data to generate spatial intelligence, resulting in a digital fingerprint of wildfire risk. (athenaintel.io)

Clients include communities, power companies, insurance and financial services — with Athena’s geospatial intelligence incorporated into CWPPs, wildfire mitigation plans (WMP) and public safety power shutoffs, property underwriting and portfolio risk optimization.

Bintel Inc (Bintel.io) is managing the process of writing Living CWPP with the wisdom and experience of Marc McDonald and other members of Fire Adaptive Strategies (the former AnchorPoint Group), Scott Moore of Firepoint Forestry and Athena. A Living CWPP is an online map that shows risk, but interfaces with other information, such as transportation routes, areas of higher and lower risk, electrical transmission equipment and natural gas pipelines.

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Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence weaves vast amounts of disaggregated environmental data. Drop us a line (Info@Project-Athena.com), or visit www.athenaintel.io