Research has shown that geographic mapping software is a valuable tool that fire departments can use to identify community areas at a high risk for fires. Geographic information systems (GIS) offer community safety advocates the ability to identify where healthcare and other vital services are urgently needed. The GIS software can combine multiple sets of geographical, sociodemographic and environmental data to create a model of the environment where people live.
A recently published study by the University of Louisville demonstrates yet again the value of using GIS software to map and model areas of high fire risk.1
The study looked at whether a sample of older adults selected for a previous home fire safety intervention were actually living in neighborhoods with the highest fire risk. It also aimed to identify other high-risk neighborhoods for future potential interventions. GIS software identified the census tracts where the older adults from the home fire safety intervention lived. The older adults’ data was then compared with census tract data across seven risk factors: age greater than 65, nonwhite race, below high school education, low socioeconomic status, rented housing, year home built, and home value.
How did the demographic data for the home fire safety intervention’s older adults compare with the census data for the tracts where the participants lived? Did the earlier home fire safety intervention successfully target those at highest risk?
- This research confirmed that a previous home fire safety intervention managed to find participants who came mostly from areas of highest fire risk.
- Most importantly, however, it also demonstrated that there was a significant number of other high-risk neighborhoods whose residents did not receive a fire safety intervention.
- Freely available census tract data can effectively identify high fire risk neighborhoods within communities.
- Local agencies can use GIS to map out where home fire safety education and prevention efforts will have the best effect. Targeting high-risk areas allows agencies to better allocate scarce resources.
- Home fire safety interventions can’t be the responsibility of just one agency. An intervention is most effective when the effort is shared by safety advocates across the whole community, including public health and the fire service.
- Using a GIS-based risk model requires an understanding of geographic mapping analysis techniques. While software can be expensive, data tabulations can be done with a standard spreadsheet and mapped using free mapping software.
1 Fahey, E., Lehna, C., Hanchette, C., & Coty, M. (2016). Geographic Mapping as a Tool for Identifying Communities at High Risk for Fires. Journal of Burn Care & Research, 37(4). doi:10.1097/bcr.0000000000000303
Learn more about this research
The research article is available through our library by contacting FEMA-NETCLibrary@fema.dhs.gov. Interested readers may be able to access the article through their local library or through the publisher’s website.
Lehna, C., Speller, A., Hanchette, C., Fahey, E., & Coty, M. (2016). Development of a Fire Risk Model to Identify Areas of Increased Potential for Fire Occurrences. Journal of Burn Care & Research, 37(1), 12-19. doi:10.1097/bcr.0000000000000297