Innovating how Californians most effectively prepare for and access information about wildfires through inclusive, human-centered design and responsive technology.


CAL FIRE is dedicated to protecting the Californian “wildlands,” providing emergency services during fires, and sourcing the most accurate and reliable information to ensure the safety of Californians year-round. 


In 2021, California saw over 8,600 wildfires spanning over 2.6 million acres, resulting in $45 billion dollars in damage (although the true economic cost is largely unknown), and displacing hundreds of thousands of California residents. When communities are threatened by fires, residents need access to the latest, most accurate information available. All too often, however, local news channels and social media posts share information that has not been validated by emergency responders, which can potentially put people at risk.

In February 2019, CAL FIRE engaged Exygy and Sagent Marketing to redesign their Ready for Wildfire (RFW) mobile app with the goal to better inform Californians about relevant wildfire information. This project included an initial assessment of the existing mobile app, user research, and a design prototyping workshop.


Within just the first month of launching Ready for Wildfire, over 1,500 accounts registered and 86% of users created wildfire readiness plans.

Over 120 days during the 2020 wildfire season, our system has sent over 1.2 million text messages to subscribers — a crucial part of keeping Californians informed about active wildfires in their area. More recently, between February of 2020 and July of 2021, the Incidents app has had 274,000 page views.

quote mark

Understanding our Users

We began by conducting product and market research to understand the needs of our audiences, as well as best practices used by other emergency response digital products that educate users and inspire behavior change.

As a digital innovation studio founded in human-centered design principles, we worked to ensure that Ready for Wildfire is as accessible and intuitive for users as possible. Our designers interviewed California residents and emergency responders in areas recently impacted by wildfires (Sonoma, Napa, Paradise, etc.) to understand their needs when preparing for wildfire season and acting during a wildfire incident.

Above: A sample of user personas created for CAL FIRE, based on direct user interviews.

Through these interviews, we learned that there was a need for more guidance on how Californians should prepare for wildfires before the season starts. During wildfire season, many residents use broadcast television, radio, and online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google for wildfire updates - but the information on these channels is not always validated. Additionally, residents living in remote areas are more frequently dependent on offline communication and information, which is more time-consuming and overall more difficult to access.

With these needs in mind, our team then shifted to understanding the landscape for proven design solutions. Through market research, our team gathered intel on the latest civic technologies, apps, and platforms in emergency preparedness to understand best practices for engaging civilians in wildfire preparation and prevention behaviors. These findings were then summarized into a personalized market research report and shared to the CAL FIRE team.

Prototyping to Find What Works

Above: Exygy designer, Alice Yan, facilitates a prototyping session with the CAL FIRE team.

With our product and market research in tow, we facilitated a design prototyping workshop with the CAL FIRE team. After presenting the user insights and marketing findings, our team led a guided brainstorm activity to quickly design and sketch practical evolutions of the mobile app to better serve both Californian’s and CAL FIRE’s needs.

Design, Validation, and Launch

Upon completing the design prototyping workshop, our team next set to work validating the ideas co-created with CAL FIRE. To do so, our designers created clickable prototypes: simple, low-cost, non-coded designs linked together to mimic a working product. These clickable prototypes were then tested with real end-users to assess their usability and usefulness to Californians. From these feedback sessions, our team was then able to further refine the designs into a polished version.

These designs were then handed off to our development team, with additional focus on ensuring WCAG and WC3 accessibility and mobile responsiveness. The new web app was ultimately launched in February 2020.

Built for Secure, Reliable Access

The redesigned Ready for Wildfire app offers users critical information in two related platforms: an incidents-based app, and education-based app. The incidents app pulls information directly from CAL FIRE’s fire database, which is validated by CAL FIRE units. CAL FIRE can send text message alerts to thousands of users when there’s an active fire nearby. Additionally, users can type in a zip code or location and quickly see critical, up-to-date information about nearby wildfires. 

The education-based app helps users prepare for wildfires before they begin. Users can answer five quick questions about where they live and who they live with to create a customized wildfire readiness plan.

The Incidents app provides the latest updates on local fires. Users can search their zip code to see nearby fires, containment levels, and sign up for text message alerts on unfolding activity.

Designed for Inclusion

Our team was able to leverage multiple ways to address many of Californians’ biggest needs when staying safe during wildfire season. For instance, although Ready for Wildfire is optimized for mobile use, it is available on the web so that anyone - not just smartphone users - can access timely wildfire information.

To meet the needs of rural users who may have limited internet connectivity, the site was designed to be easily converted into PDFs and printed, and the app supports text message updates. 

Both wildfire information and wildfire readiness plans are available in English and Spanish, with plans for more language translations in future updates. Text message updates are also available in multiple languages.

Explore the Ready for Wildfire App: Wildfire Plan (pre-fire preparation), Wildfire Incidents (ongoing fire updates).

quote mark

Want to work together?

We are always looking to get in touch with partners to help build healthy and resilient communities together
contact us