Growing Your Patch by Getting to Know It
This article was published in the Autumn 2011 edition of Fire Australia magazine.
Fire agency workers can better understand their local communities’ perceptions, beliefs and needs with a handy guide – Know Your Patch to Grow Your Patch – produced by Bushfire CRC researcher Dr Alison Cottrell.
Dr Cottrell, Deputy Director of the Centre for Disaster Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, says fire agencies, land management groups and local government can better tailor the content of their community safety policies by understanding community perceptions of bushfire hazard and related issues.
The research behind the 16-page booklet was undertaken as part of the Bushfire CRC’s Understanding Communities Project, which aimed to provide a better understanding of the relationship between communities and their fire service providers.
Research methods included reviews of academic and other publications, in-depth interviews, group meetings, focus groups, and household surveys, with case studies of three local Queensland communities providing much of the impetus for the Know Your Patch to Grow Your Patch guide.
The title is from the guide’s tips for agencies to get to know their local “patch” better by building a profile of community members, their needs and aspirations, in order to grow public interest in fire safety and prevention.
“Many fire services continually lament the low attendance at the community meetings they organise – meetings that aim to foster community resilience,” says Dr Cottrell. “Some research even found that community members would prefer not to meet with the fire services. This requires creative thinking about how to reach the community and highlights the value of the community profile.
“Important steps to building community resilience include networking strategies such as prioritising who needs to be contacted, working through existing community organisations, contacting employers, tourism providers and managers of large facilities such as factories, sporting clubs and care providers, while including community members in the discussions about their local priorities and how issues might be resolved,” she says.
“This process is about identifying who lives in a geographic community defined on the basis of the local fire service boundaries, engaging with that community by understanding itsmakeup and its needs, then negotiating ways to address bushfire issues with that community.
“It is a much more effective alternative to telling people what to do – an approach that clearly does not work.”