Since 1984, wildland fires have burned an average of more than 850 homes each year in the United States and, because more people are moving into fire-prone areas bordering wildlands, the number of homes at risk is likely to grow. The primary responsibility for ensuring that preventive steps are taken to protect homes lies with homeowners and state and local governments, not the federal government. Although losses from wildland fires made up only 2 percent of all insured catastrophic losses from 1983 through 2002, fires can result in billions of dollars in damages. Once a wildland fire starts, various parties can be mobilized to fight it, including federal, state, local, and tribal firefighting agencies and, in some cases, the military. The ability to communicate among all parties--known as interoperability--is essential but, as GAO has reported previously, is hampered because different public safety agencies operate on different radio frequencies or use incompatible communications equipment. GAO was asked to assess, among other issues, (1) measures that can help protect structures from wildland fires, (2) factors affecting use of protective measures, and (3) the role technology plays in improving firefighting agencies' ability to communicate during wildland fires.
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