Engaging homeowners in wildfire risk mitigation: Which approaches work best?

Posted: Sept. 14, 2017

A recent study shows that fire agencies use many methods of information dissemination, as well as regulatory approaches, to promote mitigation in the wildland urban interface (WUI) on private property.

WUI community meeting

As prolonged drought and community development have increased wildfire risk in the western U.S., researchers have started to publish studies on how homeowners perceive wildfire risk and their responsibility for reducing it. Less research exists on best outreach strategies for fire agencies to promote mitigation in the WUI.

Using a series of case studies of catastrophic wildfires in Colorado, followed by an online survey to wildfire professionals across 11 western states, researchers at the University of Colorado (Denver and Boulder) analyzed methods of mitigation outreach and education, wildfire professionals’ support for various types of risk mitigation approaches, and wildfire professionals’ views about regulatory approaches to address risk in WUI areas. Their findings suggest common limitations related to wildfire education and outreach, but also indicate areas of opportunity.

Recommendations based on these findings suggest that fire professionals should consider taking advantage of citizen network approaches to outreach in order to build trust between agency personnel and homeowners and to cope with limited support for regulatory mandates for wildfire mitigation.

Research takeaways

1. Regulatory approaches are dependent on the political environment.

Fire professionals’ support for regulation to address wildfire risk is based not on their own beliefs and ideology, but on the political environment they work in. Those who prefer a regulatory approach support more aggressive risk assessment on private property and believe they have the support of residents to do so. This indicates that fire professionals are aware of, and interested in, the political usefulness of regulations to increase mitigation. They are also aware of limitations due to residents’ preferences, perceptions and support for various mitigation and risk assessment approaches.

2. Face-to-face contact works best.

Fire organizations use as many ways as their budget allows to communicate information about reducing wildfire risk, including:

A face-to-face approach appears to be the best way to promote wildfire mitigation behavior by residents, but it requires a lot of resources.

3. Use community members to engage WUI residents.

To cope with limited resources, fire organizations should consider the Citizen Entrepreneur model. Citizen Entrepreneurs are highly motivated community members who can help resource-challenged wildfire agencies encourage mitigation on private property by directly engaging with WUI residents.

This may take the form of neighborhood or community leaders who organize events, or homeowner association leaders who welcome new neighbors with information on wildfire risk and mitigation ideas. These programs can accomplish some of the goals of face-to-face contact by building trust and gaining residents’ attention, but with lower costs.

Learn more about this research

Crow, D. A., Lawhon, L. A., Koebele, E., Kroepsch, A., Schild, R., & Huda, J. (2015). Information, Resources, and Management Priorities: Agency Outreach and Mitigation of Wildfire Risk in the Western United States. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy, 6(1), 69-90. doi:10.1002/rhc3.12073

The research article is available through our library by contacting netclrc@fema.dhs.gov. Interested readers may be able to access the article through their local library or through the publisher’s website.

This summary is for informational purposes only. More +
As such, the content does not reflect any official positions, policies, or guidelines on behalf of the sender, the U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, DHS, nor any other federal agencies, departments or contracting entities. Similarly, this summary does not represent in any manner an official endorsement or relationship to any private or public companies, organizations/associations, or any authors or individuals cited or websites associated within the article.

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