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Recent News

Aug 29

A Community-Based Solution: How Actuaries and Fire Chiefs Can Tackle WUI Risk Together

Nancy Watkins, Frank Frievalt and Dave Winnacker are leaders of a strategic alliance formed to address wildfire risk to communities in the wildland-urban interface (WUI).

In this Q&A-style article, Watkins, who is a consulting actuary, interviews Frievalt and Winnacker, who are experienced as fire chiefs in California, about their views on what insurance actuaries and insurers should know about wildfire risk today, how they can work with fire professionals and other stakeholders to navigate insurance market disruptions and to drive down wildfire risk in the WUI.

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The Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fire Institute is a mission driven organization that seeks solutions to the Wildland Urban Interface fire problem through innovative research, training, and education to create safer and more fire resilient communities in California and the West.

A Message From Our Director

Bio & Resume
Frank Frievalt

"The mission of the Cal Poly WUI Fire Institute is to help create the most fire resilient communities in the world.

We are experiencing the leading edge of a perfect storm created by unsustainable vegetative fuel loading, climate change, and expanded development in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Failure to prepare for what is approaching will, at best, result in avoidable loss of life and unfathomable financial ramifications from property and utility loss that will devastate insurance, reinsurance, municipal bond, mortgage, and construction industries. At worst, we face an existential threat through irreparable damage to ecosystems in the Western US. Returning beneficial fire to these ecosystems is essential, but will remain politically unacceptable, unless we can concurrently and confidently induce fire resilience in our WUI communities.

It is a profound honor to join Cal Poly and contribute to the good work that faculty and staff have been doing for years in this space. The combined expertise of Cal Poly’s six colleges brings a unique and synergistic capability to solve “wicked” problems of the WUI. The foundational support of our utility partners has been invaluable; my intent is to develop additional support and collaboration with the full spectrum of stakeholders needed to fulfill the Institute’s mission."


Frank L. Frievalt


Develop and evaluate methods of designing and managing forests and communities in ways that reduce wildfire severity and threats to human welfare and property while maintaining environmental and community health.


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Applying engineering and science-based solutions to fire management problems, including:

  • Design and protection of the built environment
  • Responder health and safety
  • Social and economic factors
  • Prescribed fire use in WUI environments


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Gathering, analyzing, and dissemination of timely, actionable situational intelligence and information for practitioners, policy makers, municipalities, planning staff, and stakeholders.


R FIRE Image

Multidisciplinary applied research for timely solutions to contemporary problems using science, technology, engineering, and analysis for projects like fuels monitoring and management; ecosystem responses to fuel treatment practices, and more.


E FIRE Image

Use Cal Poly’s Learn By Doing educational approach to connect students into the process of developing and applying solutions; and for providing advanced training for current and future workforce education, practitioners, regulators, and public preparedness and outreach.



Dicus Fire

The Institute uniquely leverages faculty, staff, and students from across all six Colleges to educate, train and solve complex problems through an interdisciplinary, solutions-oriented approach. By bringing together teams of fire ecologists, architects, engineers, chemists and city planners, and many other disciplines, the Institute can address WUI fire issues in an integrated and holistic manner to spur innovation and novel solutions.

Contact Frank Frievalt, Director, at ffrieval@calpoly.edu for more information.


We seek to engage a broad range of stakeholders as sponsors and partners in the Institute. Sponsorship of the Institute will help financially support a dedicated team of professionals leading our efforts and enable us to carry out the critical research and action need to address the urgent WUI fire crisis impacting California’s communities.

Through partnerships, we will strengthen our collective knowledge and capacity for implementing solutions across the state. For more information about institute sponsors and partners or to become a partner or sponsor, contact Tim Northrop, Senior Development Director at tnorthro@calpoly.edu or (805) 801-6662.



The Institute is informed by an external advisory council representing government, academia, business, and nonprofit partners. We welcome diverse leadership and thought to create a coordinated, strategic approach to problem solving and to maximize our impact.