NC State
Fire Chasers Project

2017-2019: Effective Network Governance for Co-Management: the Role of Cognitive Alignment in Risk Perception and Value Orientation toward Collaboration

The adoption of collaborative risk management has been offered as a path forward to deal with the ongoing challenges associated with wildfire management, however, realizing its promise is difficult. Changing the status quo fire management model that is predominantly focused on federally funded suppression to a model of co-management of fire risk among various affected groups, organizations and agencies is an exercise in network governance. Network governance refers to the forums and institutionalized practices within which co-management occurs. Understanding effective network governance as well as the social-psychological mechanisms through which governance influences co-management outcomes is critical. Our project draws from science on networks and social cognition to pose the following research question: How do network governance tools, cognitive alignment in risk perception, and value orientations relate to more or less effective co-management?

The research design for the proposed research will be a mixed methods study consisting of both a qualitative grounded theory component as well as a quantitative modeling component. Quantitative modeling techniques will include a combination of  Q-methodology, 2-mode network analysis, and multi-variate modeling. The over-arching sample frame for the study will focus on Type 1 multi-jurisdictional wildfire events across the United States in which there is a significant WUI element present. Our team will work with national incident management teams, the National Incident Management Organization, and USFS Fire Aviation and Management through their annual workshops, meetings, webinars, and conferences to deliver our findings.

 

 

2012-2015: Improving Community Response to Wildfire Project

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).

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2011-2013: Systematic Learning after a Wildfire: Development of a Post-Fire Research Framework and Protocol

This proposed project will develop a new framework for post-fire research that will facilitate more consistent and rigorous data collection and improve the ability to aggregate lessons across fires. Recent years have seen the costs from wildfires escalating throughout the world, whether in terms of lives and homes lost, dollars spent on fighting fires, or ecological damage and subsequent rehabilitation.  As a result, greater attention is being focused on the period following a fire as an ideal time to learn how various factors before and during the fire contributed to or mitigated negative outcomes.  Such post-fire follow up investigations can clarify how the complex interactions between decisions made and actions taken before and during the fire, by fire and land managers and members of the public, contribute to better or worse outcomes.  While much can be learned from individual studies, more could be learned by aggregating lessons from different fires.  In order to do this, a common methodology is needed so that effective comparisons and appropriate conclusions can be made.  The project goals are to learn from and build upon existing post-event research efforts, both for wildland fires and for other natural hazards, to develop a standardized post-wildfire research process that can be used by both researchers and land managers to inform common research needs.  We will develop a methodology that can be implemented shortly after a fire with a small number of people and core set of research issues and questions, but that is adaptable (scalable) to allow more specific and local issues and challenges to be addressed.  Such a research framework would 1) ensure a base level of consistent data across fires and future research efforts, 2) facilitate effective rapid responses after an event, 3) promote organizational learning, and 4) improve fire programs and policy.

 

2009-2011: Information Collection, Assimilation and Dissemination for Fire Management: A Social Network Analysis

Effective relationships among local forest employees, incident management teams and the local community are an important part of sound fire management.  Formal reporting structures and organizational charts do not fully capture the coordination needed for sound information collection, assimilation and dissemination during a wildfire event.  Informal networks cut across work processes and areas of knowledge to facilitate information collection, assimilation and dissemination.  At present, little empirical work exists to document how formal and informal networks operate during a fire to support effective information collection, assimilation and dissemination. Assessing and supporting strategically important informal networks has the potential to yield substantial performance benefits for wildfire management.  Better understanding of 1) what these formal and informal networks look like; 2) how they operate; and 3) how they might be improved to assist better information collection, assimilation and dissemination could result in improved fire management.  In this research, we used social network analysis as a tool to better understand formal and informal networks as they relate to information processes in fire management.

 

2007-2011: Implementation Factors that Affect Appropriate Management Response

Wildland fire management must balance the multiple objectives of protecting life, property and resources; reducing hazardous fuels; and restoring ecosystems. Increasingly, these policy imperatives must be met while achieving cost containment. One key to balancing these objectives is exercising management flexibility through the use of Appropriate Management Response (AMR) – “a risk-informed approach to setting suppression priorities and making operational decisions….AMR includes a continuum of suppression strategies and tactics that can be used on the same fire” (FAM 2007).  While AMR is a compelling vision, we lack specifics about the factors that influence strategic and tactical decision-making including how community interaction increases or decreases the opportunity to exercise AMR.  While we have a plethora of local (individual) and anecdotal evidence, research relating to community and public understanding of fire management during a fire event is limited. Thus, from a collective organizational perspective,  we do not know what agencies do to reach the public or what communities or the public understand about strategies and tactics, or how the public can facilitate or obstruct the use of AMR.   This project explored how community-agency interaction influenced the exercise of AMR.  We identified patterns of activity associated with agency-community interaction pre-fire and during-fire.  Agencies have many options to interact with the public.  They also have limited resources and so need to make informed choices about the most effective way of interacting with the public to successfully engage in AMR.

 

2002-2005: Community Action, Decisions, and Effectiveness in Adapting to Wildfire Threat:  Case Studies of Best Management Practices

Great uncertainty surrounds the scope and success of community responses and why some communities manage to foster constructive adaptive responses to wildfire disasters while others fail to do so.  In the last decade a natural experiment has occurred in the inland portion of the western United States as communities have taken different approaches to adapting to the successive incidents of wildfire disasters.  This project investigated the scope of actions taken to adapt to wildfire risk while also trying to understand why and how some communities were more proactive and successful than others.  The goal was to harvest this experience and diffuse the lessons from more successful communities to less successful communities through case studies of best practices.