I was honored to share information at a session at NFPA’s C&E this year about how to effectively speak to communities about wildfire preparedness and mitigation measures they can take to reduce the risk of home destruction. Wildfire loss is increasing. Just recently The Sherpa Fire in Santa Barbara, California has consumed over 6,000 acres with temperatures of over 2,000 degrees and fire tornadoes.
Wildfire events are one natural disaster where changes made by neighborhoods and residents can contribute to lessening their risk of loss. There is an abundance of research about what types of changes made to homes and the landscape surrounding the homes can make a difference to reduce catastrophic loss, including resources available at no cost through NFPA’s Firewise Program.
So why have communities and residents not engaged in programs like Firewise? Perhaps it is due in part to the fact that important safety information needs to be presented in a way that makes it relevant, understandable, and achievable. How do you make the message about wildfire mitigation palatable so that residents and communities embrace change that creates resiliency? As Jack Cohen a US Forest Service research scientist has shared about reducing wildfire risk, “It is not rocket science -- it is social science.”
By synthesizing the best practices I have learned through my own positive and negative experiences presenting to communities, along with experiences shared with me by fellow community assessors, leaders and fire fighters, and the research findings of social scientists, I put together a presentation that defines some tangible steps you can use to make your message relevant. When residents can hear and understand your message, this can help them to take effective risk reduction action.
A tip sheet with highlights shared during my presentation was provided to attendees. Some tips include:
- Do your homework first! Define the actual risk. Be truthful, not scary.
- Get to know who your audience is and what they need.
- Be honest with yourself about what can you do for your audience. Identify other key partners.
- Find common ground.
- Deal with an unpleasant audience by going back to square one. Find out what they need and what their past experience has been. Ask questions and show interest in their concerns.
- If you don’t have what your audience needs, help them find additional resources.
- Keep your cool even if the audience is unpleasant. Approach wildfire risk as OUR obstacle. Ask, “How can we fix this together?”
Have you successfully engaged your audience using unique presentation methods that have helped your community work together to make change that makes a difference?