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Five Ways to Keep Fire on the Agenda – by Dr. Elwood Miller, Coordinator for the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities

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A Fire Adapted Community is one where the people have totally prepared themselves and the place they call home for surviving the inevitable presence of wildfire.  To achieve this state of preparation, people need to change the way they think about their vulnerability as well as that of their house and the landscape where they live.  They need to include the presence of fire as part of the community culture.  Changing the culture of a community requires exposure to information that presents an alternate way of thinking about and picturing the surroundings and the structure, as well as personal behavior.  Providing this information is not a “one and done” event but rather a well-planned communication scheme that involves routine and frequent delivery of the message.  It means putting fire on the agenda; every agenda available.

In the fall of 2014 twenty seven successful community leaders were interviewed to learn from their experience and identify the methods they employed to keep fire on the agenda in their community.  The top five approaches used to change the culture of their community are listed below in rank order of importance:

  1. Defensible space inspections of the house and landscape.  This was consistently reported as the most effective educational tool available.
  2. Distribution of high quality, professionally prepared material such as that available from the Living With Fire Program and the local fire department.  Having this material available at all times and at all community gatherings was an important component of keeping fire on the agenda.
  3. Personal contact through door-to-door campaigns.  No means of communication is more important or effective than personal contact and face-to-face conversation.
  4. Presentations by respected fire professionals.  Taking advantage of every available opportunity to have fire service professionals speak directly to members of the community brings credibility to the fire message.  Their involvement also builds trust and creates a strong partnership that reinforces the shift in the community’s culture and enhances efforts to be prepared.  Opportunities for presentations may be readily available or may have to be planned as neighborhood get-togethers.
  5.  Routine and frequent distribution of notices, reminders, personal letters, news articles, personal stories, newsletters, and photographs.  While all of this takes time and commitment, it is an effective way to keep people reminded that fire is a part of the culture and preparation for its occurrence is critical for the survival of the entire community.  The utilization of social media can be very effective in keeping the message alive.

Whether you use one or all of these methods, the most important first step in adapting a community for fire is to create a fire culture.  Using these methods will put fire on the agenda and greatly advance the mission of survival.