© 2024 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

2020 wildfire survivors more apt to prepare, support emergency response to future fires

 Relief volunteers ready wheelbarrows to gather and take away debris from Blue River, which was severely hit by 2020's Holiday Farm Fire.
Brian Bull
Relief volunteers ready wheelbarrows to gather and take away debris from Blue River, which was severely hit by 2020's Holiday Farm Fire.

A new Oregon State University study finds people directly affected by the 2020 wildfires were more apt to prepare for similar disasters, and join emergency response activities.

Researchers surveyed those who were severely affected by what’s considered the worst wildfire season in Oregon history.

Hilary Boudet is an associate professor of sociology at OSU. She told KLCC that survivors who informed themselves from official government websites were nearly twice as likely to take three or more disaster preparedness actions.

This could include making an evacuation plan, replacing flammable building materials with more fire-resistant materials, preparing an evacuation kit (a.k.a "go bag"), improving air filtration, and reducing or removing vegetation and slash near near one's home, among others.

 Burned and demolished foundations in rural setting.
Brian Bull
The town of Blue River, in February 2021. OSU researchers say in the aftermath of the 2020 wildfires, people adversely affected by these incidents were more apt to engage in emergency and relief efforts, prepare for similar disasters, and believe in climate change.

Once burned, twice shy? Not necessarily

“Another interesting piece to the puzzle is that social factors really mattered," explained Boudet. "People who reported that they were talking more with friends, family, neighbors about the wildfires, after the event also reported taking more actions. And probably the most important factor shaping actions after the fires was - if people thought their neighbors and friends and community members were also taking those actions.”

This single most powerful factor is what researchers call “descriptive norms,” which can be framed as a type of peer pressure: When people believed that more of their friends or neighbors were taking wildfire preparedness actions, they were more likely to do same.

Boudet adds people’s concerns over climate change also increased.

In a release from OSU, researchers offered policy recommendations based on the findings, focused on how local and state governments can motivate residents to be more proactive. The researchers suggested providing more platforms for local residents to interact with each other, "so they can engage in policy discussion and talk among themselves about what mitigation measures they’re taking."

They also suggested that media campaigns should capitalize on the power of “descriptive norms” by highlighting what ordinary people are doing in their daily lives to protect their own homes.

“When people are talking with other people, they are more likely to take action,” said Usman Siddiqi, lead author on the study and a doctoral student in OSU’s School of Public Policy.

The research team added that policymakers should also engage with community gatherings to help residents connect their lived experiences with climate change and the need for more action, he said.

The report is in the journal, Disasters.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
Related Content