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Individual Highlight

Improving Knowledge of Public Information Needs During a Wildfire

Photo of Shultz Fire Information Provision. Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest ServiceShultz Fire Information Provision. Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Although fire managers actively work to provide information to the public during wildfires, little research has been conducted to understand whether this information fulfills public needs. Research by a Forest Service scientists shows the importance of up-to-date, locally-specific information that helps those threatened by fire make sense of their complex situation and determine protective actions they need to undertake. It also shows that evacuees have greater information needs, exhibit more active information seeking behavior, and show a greater reliance on interactive information sources than non-evacuees.

Principal Investigators(s) :
McCaffrey, Sarah M. 
Research Location : All NRS States;California;Colorado;North Carolina
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2013
Highlight ID : 502

Summary

Providing information to the large numbers of people affected by a wildfire is an important part of minimizing negative outcomes and ensuring public safety. Although fire managers have actively worked to provide information to the public for years, little empirical work has been conducted to determine if managers are providing the affected public with the type of information they most want and through channels they trust. Forest Service scientists asked households in four communities affected by 2010 fires about their experiences in obtaining information during the fire. In two communities, a significant number of respondents were evacuated, allowing comparison of the information needs of evacuees and non-evacuees. Findings showed the importance that affected individuals placed on up-to-date, locally-specific information that helped them make sense of the situation and determine what protective actions they needed to undertake. Evacuees were found to have greater information needs, exhibit more active information seeking behavior, and show a greater reliance on interactive information sources than non-evacuees. Collectively these findings, coupled with existing research, suggest that while mass media updates may be useful way of reaching a broad audience during a wildfire, those most directly affected prefer targeted interactive communication that takes local context into account.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Anne Black, Rocky Mountain RS
  • Anne-Lise Velez & Jason Briefel, North Carolina State University, Raleigh
  • Toddi Steelman, University of Saskatchewan

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