I fought my first wildfire in Oregon in 1978. Summers were spent cutting and building trails and lugging around dirty equipment to reduce susceptibility. Then lightning, an errant cigarette, or an arsonist would start a blaze and the real work began.

After the last ember was extinguished, I often asked myself, what happens to the area now? Will the community be able to rebuild? Will the environment survive? How many slopes will fail? When will the vegetation grow back?

It wasn’t until I became an agronomist that I could answer those questions, and when I could, I was surprised. For most communities, resources were in ample supply during a crisis. But, like the last spark, funding was extinguished.

As anyone who lives or works in an area prone to natural disasters understands, proactive planning to control risk as well as post-event erosion control is essential.

To ensure the best possible outcome, public works departments should identify areas of greatest potential damage, determine the best way to mitigate erosion and debris flows in those areas, and develop a plan for quickly funding and implementing measures that will prevent post-fire landslides. The impacts of erosion include public health and safety, public and private property damage, damage to infrastructure such as storm drains, transportation route damage such as key arterial loss, and damage to receiving waters.

Fortunately, developing pre-fire and post-fire plans is considerably easier in today’s web-enabled world. Here’s how to make sure your community is prepared.

Next Page: Know your environment