FireWatch: Community Engagement and the Communication of Bushfire Information
AbstractSuccessive bushfire inquiries in Australia have called for authorities to more effectively harness and disseminate bushfire information. Recommendations from these inquiries suggest a new approach to bushfires involving greater co-ordination, in which home dwellers, emergency fire services and government work more closely together and acknowledge that education, safety, planning and emergency management can be effective responses to the threat of bushfire. Policymakers and community members are seeking to revise bushfire protocols and access new sources of authoritative information, which may help guide public responses. Nonetheless, the effective communication of information regarding bushfires still seems to be problematic (Department of Justice, 2013). This paper reports on findings from an ARC-funded research project, titled Using Community Engagement and Enhanced Visual Information to Promote FireWatch Satellite Communications as a Support for Collaborative Decision-Making. The project investigated the fire information communications environment of remote Australia in order to develop a suitable, user-friendly bushfire information website. Using a 'communicative ecologies' framework, this paper analyses findings from interviews held in 2012 and 2013 with community members living in the remote area of Kununurra, Western Australia. Interviewees described a fragile 'communicative ecology' where the coverage or reach of different communications technologies is variable, and where there are reception and compatibility problems. They also expressed disappointment and frustration about the lack of fire information in times of bushfire - as well as a lack of operational transparency and effective community engagement on the part of emergency organisations.