Cal Poly’s Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Research Receives Funding from Three Investor-owned Utility Companies

The pledge is another step toward bringing industry and academia together to help build fire resilient communities

Cal Poly is establishing the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) FIRE Institute,  as the first-of-its kind at a California university and is getting critical support from the three largest  California investor-owned electric utility companies. Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, and Southern California Edison Company have pledged funding and support over a three-year period to assist in launching the institute which will be focused on developing holistic solutions to prevent destructive wildfires and help build more resilient communities.

The Cal Poly WUI FIRE Institute, comprised of an interdisciplinary group of Cal Poly faculty, staff and students, partnered with industry and community members, is focused on developing and evaluating methods of managing forests and designing communities in ways that reduce wildfire severity and threats to human welfare and property while maintaining environmental and community health.

The support of the three investor-owned utilities is part of a larger strategic effort by Cal Poly to collaborate with a broad cross-section of stakeholders that includes agencies, industry, policy makers, community planning and design, forest management, and response organizations.

“These stakeholders are integral to better connecting problems with solutions and preparing the future workforce for these challenges,” said Dan Turner, a retired CAL FIRE chief and business manager of the San Luis Obispo County Fire Safe Council who is helping to lead the WUI FIRE Institute effort. “The investment of these utility companies in the Institute is a new path forward toward reducing community damages from wildland-urban interface fires including advances in planning, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery. Their financial support will enable research, recruitment of graduate students, educational outreach, and administrative support of the institute.”

Cal Poly’s WUI FIRE Institute will work with the utilities on optimizing their Wildfire Mitigation Plans (which are required by the California Public Utilities Code), infrastructure design and protection, fire prevention, and technology solutions.

“We welcome the opportunity to aid the organization’s goal to be the ‘center of excellence’ using a multi-disciplinary systems-based approach focused on education and research,” said SDG&E’s Chris Terzich, environmental regulatory and technology lead, who spearheaded SDG&E involvement and the utility partnership effort with SCE and PG&E. “We applaud the Institutes’ broad focus on the multi-faceted wildland fire problem, where the electric utilities are only one of many factors to be considered. The institute will have the ability to connect multiple public and private stakeholders to establish statewide research, collect and disseminate information, convene stakeholder dialogues, guide workforce education and training, and inform policy.”

“The rapid onset of catastrophic wildfire risk has heightened our focus on hardening the electric grid and deploying other wildfire mitigation techniques to protect our communities,” said Steven D. Powell, Southern California Edison executive vice President. “While we have robust plans, we have to look beyond the technologies available to us today, as well as focus on many aspects of fire management. Our research partnerships can help us look at all of them.”

“Serving as the center of collaboration, the WUI FIRE institute will allow exploration of research in wildfire risk topics that normally fall outside traditional utility business operations,” continued Richard Lam, senior advisor of Grid Technology Innovation for Southern California Edison, who is the company’s lead in working with the institute. “Key decision-makers from the IOUs, government agencies and academia will be involved, and the institute is our intersection for information sharing and coordination.”

About Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences

Cal Poly is a nationally ranked, comprehensive polytechnic university. The university’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences is comprised of expert faculty members who take pride in their ability to transform academically motivated students into innovative professionals ready to solve the complex challenges associated with feeding the world in sustainable ways. Students have access to state-of-the-art laboratories, including organic and conventional crop land, orchards, vineyards, forests, and rangeland, all of which provide the basis for Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing methodology. It is the fifth-largest college of agriculture in the country with more than 4,100 undergraduate students. For more information visit


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