Contents & Abstracts
Editorial : Fire
Risk Communication and Preparedness: New evidence to empower the communities.
by Dr Fantina Tedim
In the last few years a number of catastrophes have taken place in Cyprus; accumulating loses of millions of pounds, destroying valuable ancient pine tree forests and disrupting rural life for days and in a few cases weeks and months. A survey, aiming to gather information and opinions about the current fire safety situation in wildland fires was carried out.
The aim of this study is to provide the reader with an adequate idea about the existing situation in Cyprus as far as safety is concerned in wildland areas.
Australia experiences a range of disasters, but during the prolonged drought, one of the most common and devastating natural disasters has been that of bushfires; even when floods were covering some parts of Australia, fire was destroying other areas. Does awareness of ones level of risk make a difference to our preparedness to combat future fire risks? Or is it that we have to personally encounter a fire on our own doorstep before we take action to ensure that the next time it happens we know that we have done all we could to avert the fire danger? A larger study on rural residents responses (N = 713) to a survey on preparedness for, and experience of, bushfires was conducted a year after one of the worst bushfire seasons in Australia and after ongoing devastating grass, forest and fire storms in South East Queensland. A report on the descriptive data from that survey has been published elsewhere. The analyses presented here focus on risk, exposure, and experience factors relating to bushfire preparedness in rural areas with a bushfire history.
Over the last few years, Portugal has been in the international news spotlight due to the forest fires which, in a greater or lesser degree of severity, afflict the country almost every summer. However, it was especially in 2003 and 2005 that the country received the most media attention, since the forest fires were very fierce indeed in those years.
While the fires in 2003 could to some extent be largely attributed to an abnormal incidence of dry thunderstorms, especially on the 1st and 2nd of August, the ease with which the fires spread in 2005 was mainly the result of the extremely severe drought which Portugal suffered that year. But these factors alone cannot explain the ferocity of the situations experienced in those two years.
In fact, many of these fires could not only have been avoided, but their spread could have been impeded, or even halted, if some simple steps had been implemented - steps which would have prevented the danger from threatening many houses, warehouses, agricultural facilities and other buildings located on the urban-forest interfaces or even within the cities themselves.
Bushfire risk communication and education are the primary mechanisms used by emergency managers to increase resilience and recovery from bushfires. Generally these agencies utilise mass communication techniques to provide targeted and standardised information to at-risk members of the community. These techniques are unable to accommodate the variability between communities, particularly the situational characteristics of the community and the resulting context in which risk communication messages are interpreted by those communities. This observational study, carried out after a severe bushfire on the east coast of Tasmania, revealed how situational characteristics of the community influence preparedness, agency trust, and sense of community. These results suggest it is necessary to couple mass communication techniques with community engagement to overcome the influence of situational characteristics, thereby encouraging collective preparedness, ensuring the correct interpretation of risk communication messages, and engendering confidence and trust in those organisations that communicate bushfire risk information.
Wildfire risk is increasing as more people move into wildland-urban inner-face areas, such as the pitch pine barrens of the Northeastern United States. However, little is known about local residents perceptions of wildfire risk or their reaction to management efforts such as prescribed fire to reduce the danger of catastrophic wildfires. This study in the Central Pine Barrens of Long Island, New York (USA) looked at the relationships between previous experience with wildland fire, level of knowledge about forest management to reduce fire danger and attitudes toward implementing these strategies in local forests. The results of a mail-out survey of 135 residents living in at-risk neighborhoods found that over half of the respondents had experienced a wildfire yet still perceived only a mid-level of risk to their own property. Public perceptions of risk were positively influenced by residents previous experience with wildfire as well as their understanding of their homes specific landscape setting (i.e., proximity to large forested areas and surrounding density of vegetation). Unlike other natural disasters, wildfire was perceived to be a human-caused hazard that can be managed and controlled by local fire officials. The more familiarity and knowledge local resident had about such hazard reduction strategies as prescribed fire, the more supportive and less concerned they were about such issues like smoke. While the study found a strong level of trust in local fire officials to suppress wildfires, local residents wanted more public involvement and participation in fire hazard reduction planning. The study points to the need to engage local residents in wildfire planning and to increase outreach about wildland fire risk and management options.
December 15, 2008