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Householder bushfire preparation: decision-making and the implications for risk communication.

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Prior, TD (2010) Householder bushfire preparation: decision-making and the implications for risk communication. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

In order to minimise the impact of bushfire hazard consequences on the Australian
community it is important to promote protective behaviours among those members of society
living in at-risk locations. The adoption of protective behaviours is a core component of
contemporary bushfire risk management, and is known to increase the capacity of individuals
to maintain or regain prior levels of functioning following significant hazard activity. However,
although considerable effort has been directed towards encouraging preparedness for
bushfires in Australia, this effort has largely been unrewarded, and levels of household
preparation remain low. In particular, research examining a broad range of hazards has
demonstrated that neither susceptibility to a hazard and perception of risk, nor providing
information about a hazard or its consequences results in a significant increase in
preparation. These discontinuities point to the influence of additional motivational and
interpretive (social-environmental) factors in the preparation decision, and suggest a need to
move beyond examinations of the antecedents of behaviour to an exploration of the cognitive
processes that bring about behaviour change. This thesis examines the decision cues that
influence individual socio-cognitive processing in the decision to prepare for bushfires.
Information about people’s attitudes to bushfires and bushfire preparation was obtained using
36 in-depth telephone interviews in January 2006 and between March and April 2007.
Grounded theory was used to build a substantive model of bushfire preparedness decisionmaking.
Surveys were distributed (2006/07 and 2007/08) systematically to houses within 100
metres of the bushland fringe in suburbs identified as being at risk from bushfire with
assistance from local fire agencies. Quantitative data were used to validate and test the
suitability of the substantive model developed from the interview data using confirmatory
Structural Equation Modelling.
Results confirmed that levels of bushfire preparedness are generally low. Several cues
influenced the decision to prepare, including outcome expectancy, sense of community,
preparation inhibitors, collective problem solving and intentions to prepare. The substantive
model of bushfire preparedness decision-making was successfully validated and tested with
data from Hobart, but a poorer model fit was observed with data collected from Sydney. Modelling the decision cues shows that individuals living in high bushfire risk areas are
making a clear distinction between the decision to prepare and the decision not to prepare for
bushfire, but the relative importance of the decision cues vary between communities and over
time. The decision not to prepare was primarily driven by negative outcome expectancy.
Positive outcome expectancy leads to strong beliefs in the value of making bushfire
preparations.
The results confirmed earlier observations that traditional risk communication techniques
have proved ineffective and provide a framework for the development of alternative
approaches to bushfire risk communication. Because preparing and not preparing are
relatively discrete processes, and because important decision cues are likely to vary between
communities and over time (e.g. sense of community and collective problem solving), bushfire
risk communication strategies must seek to accommodate this variability. The data indicate
that bushfire risk communication should utilise both information provision and community
engagement processes. The results support the conclusion that the adoption of these
approaches will increase the likelihood that community members will take responsibility for
their collective preparedness, recognise and implement the salient actions outlined in the
bushfire risk communication message, and increase the level of trust in the sources of risk
communication messages and the agencies that deliver them.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: bushfire, risk communication, decision-making, preparedness
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Date Deposited: 04 May 2011 02:48
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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