USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
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Research Topics

Recreation: Social Aspects of Fire

Rapid Response Research on Fire Communication With Wildland Interface Communities

The proximity of large wildfires to populated areas in recent years has demanded unprecedented levels of communication among agencies and between agencies and the general public. A study on wildfire communication in wildland interface communities was completed by Drs Jonathan Taylor and Shana Gillette (USGS), Dr. Ron Hodgson (BLM/USFS), Judith Taylor (USFS) in collaboration with Dr. Deborah Chavez. The objective of this study of two wildfire events in the San Bernardino mountains was to understand the communication needs of the public and to explore agency response to those needs.

The research team conducted the study in three stages before and after fires at the San Bernardino mountains. Rapid response research methods included informal discussions and focus groups, content analysis, and participant observation.

Following are some study results and management implications:

  1. There is a need to provide real time information-residents of communities near wildfires feel an urgent need for timely and accurate fire information that will help them cope with the threat to their families, lives, safety, property, and interests.
  2. Official communications should contain pertinent local information-residents found that official communications about the fires contained very little that was useful to them and that information releases were infrequent and public meetings were sometimes lacking in information of interest to residents.
  3. News media information should be more accurate-residents expressed dissatisfaction with coverage by the regional broadcast media, which was believed to be inaccurate, emphasizing the sensational over the practical, and shifting to new topics before the local need for information was past.
  4. Informal networks can be used to provide information-Wildland urban interface communities are served by relatively complex information networks that go well beyond the traditional media. Residents rely on these networks heavily during fires.
  5. Prepare for reoccupation- reoccupation following evacuations needs to be planned for as carefully and completely as the evacuation is. A communication plan needs to be part of the reoccupation plan.
  6. Mountain Area Safety Council (MAST) and Fire Safe Councils (FSCs) are important-communications among agencies and between agencies and residents in the mountain communities was substantially more effective during the fires as a result of preparations made by MAST and the FSCs prior to the events.
  7. Plan for information flow during transition-when wildland fires change in status and scope - authority, function and personnel change as well, with the "new team in town" starting from scratch to try to build community information systems.
Research conducted by:
Last Modified: Aug 29, 2016 11:04:21 AM