Frequent and effective communication between response organizations and individuals is critical to ensuring the most effective response during wildfire incidents.
Above: Incident Command Post at the Eiler Fire, August 8, 2014 at Anderson, California. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Most of the detailed reports I have seen about critical incidents identified communication as an area that needed improvement.
In a recent study, researchers analyzed the influence of pre-incident familiarity, stakeholder affiliation, and primary wildfire response/functional role on communication frequency and efficacy during three western U.S. wildfires ignited on U.S. Forest Service land. All fires occurred in wildland/urban interface areas, and involved a range of parties including Type 1 Incident Management Team response teams, local forest leaders, and responding agencies.
Below is an excerpt from the research.
“…Since wildfires are one of the most common disasters faced by communities in the U.S., understanding factors contributing to effective disaster response is key to improving response efforts. Effectiveness of disaster response is strongly impacted by the effectiveness of communication between individual responders during the incident. This research shows that mechanisms that establish relationships between disaster responders prior to wildfire incidents may increase communication between responders during wildfire incidents, and thus, reduce problematic communication and increase the effectiveness of disaster response.
Pre-incident relationship building may serve to strengthen understanding and increase mutual trust between responders. This suggests that community efforts to increase social contact between responders prior to incident can lead to benefits during disaster events by increasing the frequency and effectiveness of communication between individual responders.
This research also suggests that it can be problematic to assume that individuals with shared institutional roles will have more effective communication.
The least effective communication reported in this study was between individuals with similar institutional roles but no pre-incident familiarity.
A potential explanation for this trend is that individuals that share similar roles and/or stakeholder groups may be more likely to make assumptions about the other person’s approach to, or understanding of, a given situation, leading to false expectations and misunderstandings.
This suggests that to reduce problematic communication, responders who lack familiarity with each other must emphasize clear communication and refrain from making assumptions about the other person’s knowledge or strategy, regardless of how similar their institutional roles are…”
The information above is based on the following article: Nowell, B., & Steelman, T. 2015. Communication under Fire: The Role of Embeddedness in the Emergence and Efficacy of Disaster Response Communication Networks. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 25 (3): 929-952. doi: 10.1093/jopart/muu021.