Clare Fitzgerald, Anne-Lise Knox Velez, and Dr. A.J. Faas presented at The Society for Applied Anthropology’s annual conference on March 24-28, 2015. The roles of bridging actors in emergency response networks are important to disaster response outcomes. The presentation was based on a study of wildfire preparedness and response networks from twenty-one large-scale wildfire events in the wildland-urban interface near national forests in the American Northwest.
We investigated how key individuals in responder networks anticipated seeking out specific people in perceived bridging roles prior to the occurrence of wildfires, and then we captured who actually assumed these roles during actual fires. We examine two plausible, but contradictory, bodies of theory—similarity and dissimilarity—that suggested who people might seek out as bridgers and who they would actually go to during a disaster. Roughly half of all pre-fire nominations were consistent with similarity. However, while similarity is a reliable indicator of how people expect to organize, this does not hold up for how they organize during the actual incident.
Check out some of the work our team our team has done with the Desert Research Institute in Nevada related to the integration and application of a large wildfire threat index.
Desert Research Institute: Santa Ana Wind Threat Index Report
A complex fire event that threatens a local community can quickly overwhelm local resources. If this occurs, it can necessitate the involvement of a regional or federal incident management team (IMT) that comes into the community to manage the fire. These teams come with a wealth of resources, knowledge and experience in incident response. However, each incident is different because communities are different. In order for this outside assistance to be the most effective, they need help from the local community.
For several years now, our research team, Firechasers, has been asking the question, “How can IMTs work more effectively with local communities?”
Read more at: http://facnetwork.org/help-arrives-community-ready/
Our hearts and thoughts are with the families and communities of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed in the line of duty on Sunday June 30th, 2013. Those interested in supporting their families and loved ones are encouraged to visit and make a donation to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation at: http://www.wffoundation.org/ .
Failures in effective communication and coordination within the network of responding organizations and agencies during a wildfire can lead to problematic or dangerous outcomes. Although risk assessment and management concepts are usually understood with regards to biophysical attributes in the wildfire context, these concepts can be extended to understanding risk for problematic communication and coordination embedded within social and organizational relationships. In this research, we propose leveraging existing network and social coordination theory to investigate how pre-fire relationships and capacities affect both preparedness before a wildfire and inter-agency communication and coordination during a wildfire. This research will not only advance the science of incident management but also provide the empirical foundation for the development of a new set of concepts and rapid assessment tools that we call: Relational Risk Assessment and Management (RRAM).
Letters of Support
Frequently Asked Questions
The Fire Chasers are currently working to help local communities respond more effectively to wildfires. A comprehensive assessment of local resources and relationships serve as the foundation of this project. Fire Chasers wants to make sure that everyone involved is represented to allow for the best outcomes for their project. To facilitate response, Fire Chasers will establish a community grant program to encourage participation in their research, while providing funds for wildfire preparedness and response initiatives. To find out more about the study or to help fund the community grant program, you can read more at:
Help Us Improve Community Response to Wildfire
In the face of a changing climate, natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires are anticipated to increase. Consequently, we need to have better understanding of how communities can respond to and better prepare for disasters. Our research project, “Network Capacity and Disaster Resilience in Local Communities” focuses on how the many different types of agencies, organizations, and groups involved in a disaster work together before and during the event to create better responses. This project is unique in two ways. First, we seek to test whether concepts like attachment to community, familiarity with others, and leadership are connected to better disaster management. Second, we will measure these concepts in communities ahead of the disaster to see if they matter when the actual disaster happens. Wildfires, because they are one of the most commonly occurring natural disasters in the United States, are the events we have chosen to study for this research project.
The results from our research will lead to better disaster management, including how the many agencies, organizations, and groups involved in disaster preparedness and response might organize themselves into more disaster resilient communities. These lessons for better disaster management will be communicated directly to our partner agencies and organizations like U.S Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management, National Incident Management Organization and various state and local wildfire response organizations as we complete our research. We will also share this work more broadly with the interested public, as well as professional and academic audiences. As we conduct our research, we will provide opportunities for students to train with us, as well as expand research partnerships with leaders in key agencies interested in disaster scholarship.
Toddi Steelman and Sarah McCaffrey Present at International Human Dimensions of Wildland Fire Conference
What Kinds of Information Do People Want, Trust and Use Before and During a Wildfire?
The communication system through which information flows during a
disaster can be conceived of as a set of relationships among sources
and recipients who are concerned about key information
characteristics. The recipient perspective is often neglected within
this system. In this article, we explored recipient perspectives
related to what information was used, useful, and trustworthy. Using
a survey (n=873) on five large wildfires in 2009 and 2010, we found
significant gaps between the sources that were most used and most
useful or the most trustworthy. The sources that were used before the
fires were also the sources that were most used during the fire. This
led us to coin the term Familiarity Principle to express that people
go to the sources they know best, even if they are not the most useful
Communication under Fire: Key Factors Related to Performance Effectiveness in Large Wildfires
Failures in effective communication and coordination within the
network of responding organizations and agencies during a wildfire can
lead to problematic and sometimes dangerous outcomes. For this reason,a key area of concern in the study of large wildfires includes the
interactions that take place among responding organizations and
agencies and their effect on the collective response. However, while
we now have several case studies that have documented the structure of
disaster response networks, we have limited empirical knowledge of the
factors that shape the structure of the communication network and
explain variation in the efficacy of interactions within it. These
interactions are viewed as the primary vehicle through which
responders develop situational awareness to changing events on the
ground and coordinate their actions with other units accordingly.
Without rigorous investigations into what forces shape these
interactions, our models of wildfire response are incomplete. This
study investigates the influence of pre-disaster relationships, role
similarity and common stakeholder affiliation on communication
frequency and efficacy during large-scale wildfire events occurring in
the wildland urban interface.