January 30, 2023

Stansbury cosponsors legislation to improve wildland fire communication

USDA Forest Service

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a New Mexico Democrat, said that a bill she is co-sponsoring builds upon her efforts in the state Legislature to modernize and standardize wildfire communication.

Stansbury told NM Political Report that there is currently a patchwork of different agencies that use different tools when responding to wildfires. She said having standardized equipment is crucial to ensuring a fast response and saving lives and property.

She is co-sponsoring the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Wildland Fire Communications and Information Dissemination Act with Rep. Young Kim, a Republican from California, who she has previously worked with on legislation. U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Colorado Democrat, has also signed on as an original co-sponsor of the bill.

They introduced the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 17.

The bill requires the NIST to research communication coordination standards and equipment used by various agencies responding to wildfires.

The NIST would also be tasked with field testing and measurement of equipment, software and technologies related to communication and will be required to provide recommendations to the National Interagency Fire Center member agencies on improving communications during wildfires.

Stansbury said the legislation creates a process for NIST to “help survey and account for what is currently being utilized in terms of data, in terms of…models, tools, technologies, and help identify what are the best available tools and technologies and then to help develop a plan for how to modernize and implement those tools and technologies at a national scale.”

While serving as a state legislator, Stansbury successfully pushed to get capital outlay money used for updating and standardizing radio communications equipment first responders around the state rely upon.

Though she couldn’t say if that effort made a difference during last year’s deadly and record-breaking wildfires, Stansbury said that standardized equipment does save lives.

This is something that Kim also emphasized in a press release. 

“Our brave first responders’ ability to rapidly and securely share information during a wildfire can save lives,” she said.

Under climate change scenarios, she said wildfires are going to become more intense as the west experiences aridification. Stansbury said having the best available tools and technologies will help first responders identify where the fires are and where to send crews to fight them. The tools could also help while planning and preparing for the next fire season, she said.

California, New Mexico and Colorado have all experienced record-breaking wildfires in recent years.

“As wildfires continue to threaten our communities in the West, we must work together to find ways in which we can better support our first responders – the firefighters who bravely put their lives on the line to fight these flames,” Neguse said in a press release.