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    Social Science Solutions for Fire Management

    Many of wildland fire management's most vexing problems can be mitigated or solved through the application of appropriate social sciences. Social science can be used to solve problems from firefighter safety to defensible space. Community collaboration and fire education, fire economics and large fire cost containment, stakeholder and landowner cooperation in landscape scale fuels treatments, social acceptance of fire, smoke, and fuels treatments, social and economic impacts of fires on communities, and psychological effects of fatigue and situational awareness are some of the fire management issues that fire social science can help manage.

    Many of wildland fire management's most vexing problems can be mitigated or solved through the application of appropriate social sciences. Social science can be used to solve problems from firefighter safety to defensible space. Community collaboration and fire education; fire economics and large fire cost containment; stakeholder and landowner cooperation in landscape scale fuels treatments; social acceptance of fire, smoke, and fuels treatments; social and economic impacts of fires on communities; and psychological effects of fatigue and situational awareness are some of the fire management issues that fire social science can help manage.

    The social sciences are divided into large categories including anthropology, sociology, psychology, geography, and economics. Wikipedia defines social science this way:

    Social Sciences is the field of sciences concerned with the studies of the social life of human groups and individuals, including economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, social studies, and sociology. (June 10, 2008)

    Social sciences are applied to practical problems in much the same way that physics is applied in civil engineering. Environmental psychology studies how the environment influences human behaviors and emotions. Communication Sciences apply psychology, anthropology, and sociology to problems of knowledge creation and exchange among people. Natural resource economics applies economic theory to natural resource management problems including fire management. There are many other fields and sub-fields of applied social science and many of these are useful to fire managers. (Those interested in a more detailed discussion of social sciences should visit the Wikipedia site.)

    Some examples of social science applications to fire management are given below. This is by no means an exhaustive list although it is a long list in order to illustrate the range of social issues fire managers must manage. Fire social science research in experiment research stations and universities has addressed many of these issues and research in other applied fields is often relevant to fire management.

    • Firefighter safety. Situational awareness and communication are fundamental to firefighter safety. Psychological and sociological theory and applied research in environmental and social psychology, human communications, emergency medicine, highway and cockpit safety, leadership, and the military can contribute to improved firefighter safety.

    • Crew productivity. Much of the theory and research developed to support training of Olympic and professional athletes can be applied to increasing the effectiveness of hand crews and injury prevention. Ergonomics research can improve tool and equipment use and safety.

    • Leadership. Research on leadership and followership is being done in fields including the military, business, and outdoor adventure sports. Small group and organizational communication research is also relevant to leadership and followership.

    • Effects of fatigue and information overload on decision making. The psychological and social effects of fatigue and stress on awareness, perception, and decision making can improve the work of both crews and incident management teams.

    • Training methods and coaching. Research in adult learning, instructional design, educational psychology, coaching for professional and Olympic athletes, instructional media, and distance learning can contribute to less expensive and more effective firefighter training and subsequent application of those things learned in fire management.

    • Public acceptance of fire, smoke, appropriate management response, and fuels treatments. Environmental psychology and sociology, political science and policy studies, and environmental economics research contribute to an understanding of the basis for public acceptance of fire management. Public information campaign and social marketing research, community development and collaboration studies, information seeking and sense making research, social networks, and studies of the use of new and traditional media all provide useful information about how the public decision to support or oppose fire management actions develops.

    • Promotion of defensible space and hazard mitigation on private lands. Social marketing, public communication campaign, innovation diffusion, social networks, collaboration, information seeking and sense making, and knowledge utilization research all contribute to the understanding about how people learn about fire danger and possible solutions, evaluate those solutions, decide to reject or adopt mitigation technologies, implement, and continue or discontinue their use.

    • Fire prevention. Unwanted human-caused fires occur for many reasons. Usually the reasons for ignitions are considerably more complicated than traditional fire prevention methods suggest. Communication and education research is clearly important to fire prevention. So are studies and theory in child psychology, deviant psychology, environment and behavior, outdoor recreation psychology and behavior, policy, law enforcement, small group interactions, safety, and cultural anthropology. Prevention research in public health and traffic safety are particularly applicable to fire prevention.

    • Fire education. Fire is a critical element in wildland ecosystem sustainability throughout the world. Hardly any natural resources policy issue from climate change to landscape aesthetics can be addressed without consideration of wildland fire. Wildfire smoke affects populations far removed in space and culture from the wildlands. Long burning wildfires have important social and economic consequences for communities. Education and communication research and their applications in public health education are particularly relevant to fire education.

    • Fire Disaster Communication. There is a myth that people panic in disasters and that if the public is aware of the seriousness of the situation it will lead to panic. Disaster research has not only debunked this myth but provides better understanding of human behavior under serious threat and how knowledge and information affect those behaviors. One finding is that more information earlier in the disaster is important to effective coping.

    • Evacuation and reoccupation. Evacuations can be very costly in direct expenditures and disruption of local economic activity. They also create psychological distress that leads to serious undesirable social and economic consequences. Research has shown that reoccupation has to be as carefully planned and managed as evacuations if costs and community disruptions are to be minimized. Disaster psychology and behavior research provide useful guidance to managing evacuations. Disaster communications, information seeking and sense making research results can guide efforts to help people and communities cope with wildfire threats and the issues of recovery.

    • Social and economic impacts of fire on communities. Increasing implementation of appropriate management response and applications of fire use and prescribed fire managed to mimic natural wildland fire appears to result in more long burning wildfires with attendant smoke effects and local disruption of wildland access, road closures, air traffic re-routing and perceived community exposure. Fire social science research describes both the impacts of long burning fires on communities and suggests ways to reduce and mitigate unwanted effects.

    • Community collaboration in landscape scale hazard mitigation. A great deal of social science research is available on community collaboration and cooperative action to address common problems. Sociology, anthropology, and economics, and public health produce research studies relevant to fire management efforts to plan and implement landscape scale fuels treatments and ecosystem restoration.

    • Fire disaster preparedness. Encouraging people to make preparations for disaster is particularly challenging. Adoption of preventative innovations has been studied less than the adoption of new ideas and things that promise relatively immediate improvements to one's life. It is clear, however, that prevention and preparedness require different kinds of marketing and social action and the application of appropriate research can make education and information campaigns more effective at creating appropriate behavior changes.

    • Arson. Research into arson shows the problem to be exceptionally complex. Motivations for arson can arise from psychological pathologies, the natural and important curiosity children have for fire, the desire to make money from firefighting or to collect insurance for property, efforts to cover evidence of other crimes, the desire to be a hero and gain recognition, and cultural norms that encourage woods burning. Different approaches are needed to deal with these different threats. Research also suggests how best to address the different causes of arson and fire-starting.

    • Program monitoring and evaluation. Adaptive management requires effective monitoring and evaluation. Scientific methods used by social scientists are applied to the design and implementation of data collection, analysis, and determination for project monitoring and evaluation.

    • Large fire cost containment. Economic research can be applied to measurement of both the costs and benefits of fire management. Both market and non-market values can be measured. Consumer economics can be applied to incentives for mitigation. Production economics clearly applies to fuels reduction and utilization of biomass. Economic studies can address the costs and benefits of alternatives such as the various alternatives considered under appropriate management response. Economic behavior research may help design dispatching, contracting, and agreement strategies that help minimize the costs of firefighting resource use.

    • Enforcement of fire laws. Laws and regulations are important to managing wildland fire especially in the wildland urban interface. However, law enforcement is costly and can produce unintended and unwanted behavioral consequences. Law enforcement research and the sociology and psychology of law compliance and violation can make fire laws more effective and improve the benefits of law enforcement.

    • Policy and law. Wildland fire has fundamental effects on natural resources and the environment. Wildland fire policies -- at any level of government -- affect behaviors and decisions at all other levels. Institutions managing wildland fire and the natural resources affected by fire are interrelated and their policies interlock. Policy changes and new laws have consequences well beyond the agencies to which they apply directly and often require other institutions to make serious changes in how they operate. Policy research assesses the effects of policy and predicts or explains those effects.

    Evidence-Based Wildland Fire Management

    Evidence-based wildland fire management is the application of scientific reasoning principles and the results of fire science to guide fire planning, management, and policy formulation to accomplish fire management goals such as minimizing fire management costs plus losses, the protection of human life, property, and community wildland values, restoration of wildland fire ecosystems, and collaboration in fire management on landscape scales across land ownerships and jurisdictions.

    It is science targeted to the solution of applied problems in the context of fire management by fire planners, managers, and policy makers and community and public stakeholders. Evidence-based fire management is grounded in the best science but it incorporates the practical experience and insight of working fire managers.

    The Social Science of Technology Transfer

    The problems of encouraging and facilitating the application of new ideas and technology in fire management are social problems. Social sciences such as innovation diffusion, social marketing, knowledge utilization, and adult learning are useful to technology transfer specialists.

    Most of the research guiding technology transfer and research utilization efforts has strong practical foundations in agriculture, public health and medicine, business, education, and international development. Innovation diffusion principles were successfully applied to forestry and fire management in the southeast in the 1950's. Currently, perhaps the most robust research utilization research area is in evidence based medicine. This site brings together applied research findings from a variety of professional fields and applies them to the work of promoting innovation among fire managers. The site is also a source of the latest research syntheses targeting the human dimensions of fire management.

    The collection includes bibliographies, research syntheses, and systematic and narrative reviews prepared by researchers and professionals working in a variety of applied areas. Many of these are especially prepared for fire management. Those developed for other applied areas are accompanied by discussions of their application to fire management where appropriate. In addition, this site includes fact sheets, practical guidelines, quick reference guides, management action guidelines, pod casts, on-line and classroom courses, video clips, software, and other research-based resources targeting specific technology transfer problems.

    Technology transfer specialists can also join colleagues in of technology transfer topics and ask researchers and others for advice on problems. Joining this on-line social network of technology transfer specialists can be particularly helpful to those who may have one-of-a-kind appointments in an organization, who are not located near others working in technology transfer, or who do technology transfer as part of another job.

    Links are provided to other websites that deal with technology transfer, innovation diffusion, cooperative extension, research utilization, knowledge utilization, evidence-based practice, and other allied research and applied information resources.

    Making Social Science Useable & Understandable

    Raw social science is seldom useful to fire planners, managers, and policy makers. Usually the results of more than one study have to be synthesized to have confidence in a finding or recommendation. Studies vary in quality. Scientific language needs translation into language used by fire managers. Recommendations and applications found here are based on research evaluated by qualified scientists and applied to fire by teams of scientists and fire managers working together.

    Social science products and services available at this site include: bibliographies (annotated and ordinary) of research targeting problems identified by fire managers, research reviews (systematic and narrative) of social science research related to fire management problems, and research syntheses of social science knowledge applied to fire management. Practical guidelines, management action guidelines, and quick reference guides provide specific "how-to" information for tasks fire managers face day to day. On-line, self-study, and instructor-led classroom courses in fire social science applications, and tools such as podcasts, Power Point programs, video demonstrations, audio recordings, and checklists are also available at this site.

    Bibliographies. Ordinary bibliographies found here are simply lists of publications and other resources that fire planners, managers, policy makers, and technology transfer specialists might find useful. Bibliographies include complete bibliographic citations and other information such as website URLs needed to find and acquire copies of the publications or other resources. Annotated bibliographies include written assessments of the strength of the research evidence and/or a discussion of the usefulness and application of the findings. Perhaps the most valuable bibliographies are those prepared for systematic reviews. Publications and other resources included in systematic review bibliographies are selected to answer a specific need identified by science users and are subjected to the strictest reviews for quality.

    Narrative reviews. Authors of narrative reviews collect and evaluate selected research on a topic and synthesize the results. The conclusions of the reviews describe the state of the art knowledge on that subject as it is assessed by the author. Typically, narrative reviews identify knowledge gaps that need to be filled by further research. They usually include statements of cause and effect or correlations. For example, prevention campaigns are more successful when messages targeting the at-risk person are reinforced with messages to the person's family and associates. Conclusions can also be descriptive. For example, while people considering the use of a new (to them) technology, such as defensible space around their homes, typically first learn about the new idea from mass media and use mass media to learn how to implement the idea, they rely almost entirely on interpersonal communication with trusted friends and associates as they form opinions about the idea.

    Systematic reviews. These are the highest quality literature reviews. Almost always, systematic reviews are focused on relatively narrowly defined applied problems. Concerted efforts are made to find and review all the research (published and unpublished) that is relevant to the topic. Each research report is assessed for the quality of the research design and data collection, statistical analysis, interpretation of findings, and applicability to the applied problem. Research results from the studies reviewed are synthesized into action guidelines and recommendations applied to the problem. Each guideline is accompanied by an assessment of the confidence that can be attached to the findings. When possible, statistical procedures are used to combine the results of different studies. When statistics are not appropriate, other systematic and proven methods are used. Authors of systematic reviews make clear exactly what literature is included, how it was found, and how the results of different studies are combined to yield the conclusions. Conclusions and guidelines are typically accompanied by statements of the degree of confidence users can have in applying them to real-life problems.

    Research Syntheses. These reports are more targeted than narrative research reviews and more applied. They focus on specific issues and problems identified by planners, managers, and policy makers although the topic may be broader than typically seen in a systematic review, and they may include a wider range of kinds of evidence. They typically do not attempt to encompass the entire range of research and other evidence relevant to the question at hand. Instead, they review and synthesize the best of that evidence.

    Practical guidelines provide a condensed version of the findings of systematic and other research reviews and syntheses. They are substantially shorter documents, and include only the conclusions and recommendations along with guidelines for their application to fire management problems specifically identified by managers and other science users. Almost always, fire managers participate on the team preparing practical guidelines. The realities and context of real-life applications of research results are incorporated into practical guidelines. These reports describe the reasoning that leads to each recommendation or guideline and estimates of the level of confidence that users can place in the findings.

    Quick Reference Guides are typically one page lists of recommendations derived from practical guidelines. They may be check lists. They provide rapid review of the recommendations and guidelines applied to particular situations. Quick reference guides are similar to the kinds of recommendations included in the Incident Response Pocket Guide, but each is specifically linked back to the research reviews on which they are based and the research covered in the reviews.

    Other Resources. Applied research findings are often presented in other forms easy to use and preferred by fire planners, managers, and policy makers. These include podcasts, demonstration videos, on-line and classroom courses, computer software, and other formats.

    Management action guidelines. Typically, guidelines need to be implemented in specific contexts and integrate social science principles with biological, physical, and ecological principles to solve a problem. For example, the design of fuels treatments for pinyon-juniper stands will be different from the design of fuels treatments for Ponderosa pine. Implementing aesthetic principles will be different because fire behavior is different in these fuel types, as are the needs of wildlife and associated species and soil and water management requirements. Management guidelines integrate fire and ecosystem management recommendations from the range of biological, physical, ecological, and human dimensions.

    Other Human Dimensions Science Applications

    Kinesiology, movement studies, exercise physiology, and related sciences have direct application to firefighter effectiveness, endurance, and training. Much of the theory and research developed to support training of Olympic and professional athletes can be applied to increasing the effectiveness of hand crews and injury prevention. Ergonomics research can improve tool and equipment use and safety.

    There are areas where the social sciences, medical sciences, physiology, nutrition and related research and theoretical areas interrelate as part of the human dimensions of fire. The effects of fatigue on alertness and reasoning are one of these. Alertness, perception, and reasoning affect situational awareness. Crew management, training, and the way in which hand tools and power tools are used affect endurance and fatigue. Nutrition and hydration also affect fatigue and alertness.

    Fire Manager - Researcher Collaboration

    This site brings together fire scientists and fire science users. The topics are identified by fire planners and managers working with scientists. Research results are evaluated and synthesized by scientists, but applications are developed collaboratively by teams of scientists and managers. Science users can ask questions of scientists and managers, request bibliographies, suggest research questions, connect with researchers to participate as partners in studies, and provide feedback on the usefulness of the resources offered here.

    The purpose of the Human Dimensions and Fire Social Sciences FRAMES site is to encourage and facilitate productive and satisfying communications among fire scientists, fire planners and managers, policy makers, and technology transfer specialists in order to increase applications of science in fire management. This is a resource for evidence-based wildland fire management.

    For research to be used it must be made accessible to fire science users. Users must be able to find the research. They must be able to make sense of the results and understand the degree to which they can rely on the findings when applying them. Seldom are research results as published in their original form easily applied to fire management problems. Almost always, the results of many studies have to be evaluated and synthesized to arrive at recommendations that can be applied with a high degree of confidence.

    Most importantly, research results have to be interpreted in the real-life context of wildland fire management. Research that was done to advance theory can be a powerful aid to fire managers, but only if it is processed so that the application to practical problems is clear and it is delivered in a form or "product" that can easily be applied. Even applied research targeting a specific management problem frequently needs work before it is really useable. This FRAMES site provides those products, but it also provides the place where researchers and research users can work together to process scientific information into practical applications.