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

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

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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
Authors/Creators:Prior, TD
Keywords: bushfire, risk communication, decision-making, preparedness
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Copyright © 2010 the author

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