Public Communication and Tips from the Field

It is important to note that different groups and communities have different levels of background with smoke, different past experiences, and different levels of tolerance. As indicated earlier, some may see smoke as simply a nuisance, while others may be dealing with pre-existing medical conditions that could be aggravated by poor air quality. It’s important to know your audience, the key information to convey, and consider how best to communicate it.

In most cases smoke management professionals don’t come from a communications background. Being an expert in fire ecology, smoke management practices, or emergency response, does not necessarily translate to being an expert communicator. Similarly, agency personnel who specialize in public communication may not come from a background or expertise in smoke management methods and practices. The following public communication tips come from smoke management personnel, and are intended to help bridge these gaps:

  • Anticipate events, high fire danger means high potential for smoke as well
  • If smoke is anticipated to cause a problem, be clear about the anticipated level of impact, and how long it is expected to last
  • Create messaging partners with air quality and health agencies to help avoid conflicting messages
  • Plan for ways to warn residents if smoke impacts are likely (partnering with local health organizations, etc.)
  • If you know sensitive individuals are likely to be affected, consider how they can plan for an impact ahead of time (extra medications, keep HEPA filters on-hand etc.)
  • Be upfront not only about fire activities that were conducted and went well, but also those that weren’t conducted due to air quality considerations i.e. “we canceled a planned prescribed fire today because it would have resulted in too much smoke” or “we did not conduct a burn out due to anticipated air quality impacts to the nearby communities”.
  • If BSMPs or other tools are used to help mitigate the impacts of smoke during a prescribed fire, let people know that work is happening, this establishes credibility and ultimately trust.
  • For some group situations field trips, the chance to converse and see what is happening on the ground, is highly effective.