After hundreds of wildfire incidents in Norther Ireland’s countryside, the government decided to take action mid 2017 and operation WildFire was initiated. The operation, lead by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) had the core task to investigate in more depth a number of wildfires. Fires could spread rapidly through dry ground conditions, putting property, public, habitat and species at risk.
Following other examples, the government sought to bring forth a collaboration of different fire investigators and experts to establish a fire management strategy. The collaboration brought experts from Ireland together with Experts from the European Forest Institute, working with the European Forest Risk Facility (FRISK) to collect input and expertise for such a fire management strategy. NIEA and the stakeholders from Ireland have previously cooperated in fire related issues with the European Forest Risk Facility, i.e. fire equipment, training and fire investigations.
The European Risk Facility, currently developed, will work on pan-European, national, regional and local levels. Target groups and beneficiaries of the facility are multi-fold and include practitioners in forest management and landscape planning, scientists and research managers in related domains, public authorities in forestry, landscape planning and civil protection as well as decision makers and opinion leaders in policy fields related to forests, landscape and civil protection. It rests on the Collect-Connect-Exchange principle, in other words, on collecting case studies and experiences, on interconnecting and maintaining multi-disciplinary, cross-border networks and on bridging inter-cultural, scientific and language barriers together with local experts and their respective institutions.
Based on the collect-connect-exchange principle, the facility is now supporting the NIEA in providing the required expertise from its network of fire experts from all over Europe. The process will be documented; a collection of material and documents will be provided on the Riskplatform as a so called “use case”. The Riskplatform is a platform for information exchange, addressing experts which seek information from other experts on specific topics related to natural hazard mitigation. In the case of Northern Ireland, we will start to establish a use case with background information on how it is done in different contexts, cohesive strategy for example, the USFA Wildland-Urban Interface toolkit, connecting to the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network and the local Mitigation Planning Handbook as well as mitigation ideas: mitigating impacts of various natural hazards.
Hence, the facility supports a network which collaborates on how to reduce natural hazard related risks and how to integrate successful mitigation strategies into local development strategies. The principle of connect, collect and exchange stays at the core of the Risk Facility, valuing the dialogue and the cooperation between stakeholders rather than fueling finger pointing for who is more responsible for which hazard.
Moreover, in the spirit of knowledge transfer and training, there will be a seminar and workshop organized by the NIEA to define the components of a vegetation fire strategy and to learn about the latest wildfire techniques, held in March 2018 in Belfast.