Social researchers from Canada and the United States will join Australian collaborators when they visit the NSW-Victorian Border region at the end of October to investigate how to build trust between communities prone to serious bushfires and fire management agencies.
On Monday 29 October, the international visitors will join their colleagues from Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Institute for Land, Water and Society on a tour of North-East Victoria to see the landscape and fire management conditions that face local communities, including a meeting with members of the Yackandandah Fire Brigade. They will then meet agency staff involved in fire management during a workshop in Wangaratta on Wednesday 31 October.
The three year project is led by Professor Bruce Shindler and Dr Christine Olsen from Oregon State University in the USA and is the first-ever international project to be supported by the Joint Fire Science Program of the National Interagency Fire Center, also in America.
The researchers have developed a 12 page draft trust planning guide, based on information gathered from the three countries involved, that they are testing with government agency staff at workshops in each country.
“The workshops aim to take the planning guide to the people on the ground and get feedback about what works to build trust in your communities, in your situation,” says research co-operator Dr Emily Sharp from CSU, who recently returned from similar workshops held in Oregon, USA and Alberta, Canada.
“With fire frequency and intensity increasing in each country, the agencies and the communities have realised that they have to work together to manage and prepare for fire. In the past, it was assumed that agencies would just put the fire out; there was a very separate way of managing things.
“Now we are realising that we have to work together in partnership. Policy as well as implementation on the ground is now emphasising this partnership between communities, local councils and all the fire management agencies.
“In all the research, and people on the ground will tell you as well, trust is absolutely essential in building those relationships. When you don’t have trust, people won’t support policy and will just stand in the way of things getting done.”
Dr Sharp says once the guide has been revised and finalised, researchers hope it will provide agency staff, including managers on the ground and people in policy and strategic positions, with examples of ways to work through challenges they may face in building trust with communities.
“The guide is specifically aimed at Australia, Canada and the USA because we face very similar issues in terms of fire management,” Dr Sharp said.