Social science in bushfire prone areas26 Mar
Social science in bushfire prone areas – Property owners require direction and advice after the planning approvals
I recently completed a bushfire assessment for a family proposing to build a home on their steep bushland property. The property is mapped by the state government as being in a very high potential bushfire intensity area and I wondered if the family truly understood the potential bushfire risks to themselves and their property and their responsibility to manage those risks when they are living in their new home.
To answer my question, I did some research and found two social science studies which were particularly relevant.
In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service compiled a compendium of social science research results on the human dimensions of bushfire prone areas (Social Science at the Wildland-Urban Interface: a Compendium of Research Results to Create Fire-Adapted Communities). They found that many residents living in bushfire prone areas were aware of the threat of bushfire and generally agreed that those risks were their responsibility to manage; however, this awareness did not automatically lead to adoption of risk mitigation activities. In deciding whether to take action, property owners were found to balance their bushfire risk with other values they hold for their properties and consideration of their ability to implement treatment activities. For example, some residents value trees and a sense of privacy and clearing vegetation to create an asset protection zone can seem like a direct conflict with the very characteristics they appreciate most about their property. The study concluded that property owners are more likely to adopt those behaviours they perceive as compatible with their other values as well as those they believe will provide enough benefits to outweigh any perceived costs.
A synopsis of bushfire research in Australian prepared within the Australian Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) in 2008 (Community Bushfire Safety) found similar results to the U.S. Forest Service. However, the CRC also stated that unless the whole suite of strategies needed to safely protect a property during bushfire have actually been undertaken, the property owner has not significantly reduced their vulnerability and this possible mix of underestimating risk and overconfidence in facing a risk may actually increase vulnerability.
From these studies, I concluded that my client probably does understand and accept the bushfire risks on their property but is likely to require some follow up in the future with direction and advice on the bushfire risk mitigation actions they should take.