IT IS WITH MIXED EMOTIONS that I write this column, which will be my last "Wildfire Watch." I have left my position as senior program manager for NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division to launch a new company, one that will help create fire-adapted communities through coalition building and the implementation of behavior-changing tools and sustainable policies.
My time at NFPA has been an experience filled with rich and rewarding opportunities to learn from and share with others. In that spirit, I’d like to provide a few parting thoughts on ideas that will undoubtedly shape my next wildfire activities, and that I hope can inspire some of yours.
The first is a renewed focus on how. I was recently asked to write the introduction for an upcoming book, The Fire Smart Home Handbook, by Clyde Soles, an author and founder of Trail Runner magazine. I was initially skeptical about what new information this book could provide, since our profession is already chock-full of publications for homeowners.
Much to my delight, however, I found the book was a home run. It provided a detailed and comprehensive approach on how to get the wildfire mitigation done, from the perspective of a homeowner with a tremendous amount of do-it-yourself experience. In other words, we all know what we should do. Yet efforts are rarely focused on explaining to a homeowner the myriad decisions they will encounter when preparing for the next wildfire. Topics range from how to select the appropriate tree-trimming tools, what to consider when writing a meaningful evacuation list, and even analyzing worst case scenarios (which surely makes anyone want to prepare).
This idea dovetails with my second point, which is that information and awareness only comprise the first step. If we really want to stimulate and accelerate public action, we need to combine education with a process for changing behavior. In his recent book, Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing Our World, social-change guru David Gershon outlines a process for prompting meaningful action. This process requires many key ingredients, such as clarifying at the beginning stage what is important to our audience and exploring their values (which can sometimes be different than our own); developing practices instead of checklists; and leaving more time for implementation rather than getting stuck in the planning phase. The Firewise Communities program has embraced a behavior changing model for more than a decade, and the strength of that model shows in its lasting success.
Finally, Gershon also suggests that we speak to a positive vision rather than avoidance of a negative outcome. This is the heart and soul of the Fire Adapted Community message: conveying the idea that communities are so prepared and ready for the next wildfire event that few, if any, resources are needed to protect it. Yet for some reason we shy away from this optimistic vision.
I will be the first to admit that I have been guilty of getting stuck in information-oriented activities or presentations that highlight the "bad wildfire problem" without inspiring an audience to see beyond that, or hoping that fear will prompt action. Yet in acknowledging these former efforts, often with lackluster results, I can see huge opportunities for change and transformation.
By developing a process that engages audiences on the ground and boldly planting visions, our outcomes will prove to be more lasting and sustainable. It may take more time and more effort, but I am confident that the outcomes will be rewarding. To all my friends and colleagues at NFPA, I wish you the best in the pursuit of wildfire safety.
MOLLY MOWERY is president of Wildfire Planning International. She can be reached via email at Molly@wildfireplanning.com.