A new research project is drawing on the University’s expertise to look at ways of empowering people in bushfire prone areas to be better prepared and less vulnerable to bushfires - and ultimately build stronger cultures of bushfire readiness in Australian communities.
Aiming to address issues around bushfire preparedness, highlighted all too recently in the 2019-2020 Australian fires, the project is supported by funding from the Australian Research Council and is being run by cultural and political geographer Associate Professor Aidan Davison, international bushfire expert Professor David Bowman and climate communication specialist Dr Chloe Lucas.
Dr Lucas said there was an urgent need for new, culturally-informed engagement strategies to empower people living in bushfire danger areas to reduce their vulnerability to fire episodes, which research showed were becoming more frequent and fiercer.
Despite communications strategies by state emergency services that seek to educate the public about bushfire risk and preparation, many households and neighbourhoods are inadequately prepared for the ‘new normal’ of faster, fiercer fires burning across a wider geography of landscapes and over lengthening bushfire seasons.
“This is particularly concerning on the urban fringe, where rapid development is changing landscapes, and households face complex socio-economic challenges.
“Rapidly changing populations in areas with a high proportion of rental properties, older people, economically disadvantaged people and commuters who are time poor for example, may all have different limits on their capacity to prepare for bushfire.”
The project has a strong focus on community input, considering closely how cultural connections to landscape, place, and community affect how people respond to information about bushfire hazards.It is also focused strongly on empowering people to act, rather than simply instructing them.
Empowering people is vital - we know that just providing information about bushfire risks and what people should do to protect themselves is not enough to ensure they will prepare.
The research will include analyisis of existing bushfire communication products from across Australia, as well as conversations with people in fire-prone neighbourhoods in Tasmania and Victoria about how they interpret some of these communications and how engagement can be made more relevant to their own neighbourhood context.
The team will also work with partner agencies to create a new model of community engagement that can be coordinated at a regional level, and can also respond to the different landscapes, values, aspirations and behaviours of individual communities.
“This is a three year project which we hope will build Australian fire management agencies' capacity to assist individuals and neighbourhoods to mitigate bushfire risks,” Dr Lucas said.
“The models of community engagement we plan to develop with agencies will also be relevant to wildfire management globally.”
About Dr Chloe Lucas
Dr Chloe Lucas is a Research Fellow in Geography and Spatial Sciences. Her research explores the social dimensions of climate change. Chloe’s career has focused on ways to improve communication about climate and environmental issues across all sections of society. With this intent, her PhD examined why climate change has become a publicly and politically polarising issue, investigating the values and experiences underlying unconcern about climate change. Her research identifies pathways to more empathetic and inclusive conversations between publics with different focal concerns.View Dr Chloe Lucas's full researcher profile