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Project ID: 14-2-01-11

Year: 2014

Date Started: 09/30/2014

Date Completed: 08/31/2016

Title: Risk Perception, Sense-making and Resilient Performance: the sounds of wildland firefighting in acti

Project Proposal Abstract: Managing wildland fire is an exercise in risk perception, sense-making and resilient performance. Risk perception begins with individual size up to determine a course of action, and becomes collective as the fire management team builds and continuously updates their common perception of risk. Dr. Karl Weick has called this sense-making. This act of communication - of collecting and selecting information, naming it, and passing it on, in various forms and stages of completeness, from one individual or team to another  determines how resilient and effective the teams performance is. Because all subsequent actions rely on this, risk perception is a critical activity. It is hard work and prone to error, as numerous accident reviews, here and abroad, have found. Although advances are being made in the structure of current reviews  such as including human factors analysis, which helpfully focuses on psychological factors (attention, fatigue, etc) - resilient performance requires developing a collective perception of risk, and for this, analysis of communication and interaction is needed. It is time to take a close, structured look at wildland fire incident communication and interaction processes. We propose to examine current communication practices using multiple disciplinary and theoretical angles to map and assess the communication sandbox. We will identify areas of communication competencies and constraints that affect the perception and communication of risk in wildland fire management. We seek to develop- for the first time - a comprehensive and coordinated perspective on incident communications. From this we can extract a set of insights for improving practice, identify appropriate assessment methods to support continuous improvement in risk perception, sensemaking, and resilient performance. We will initially use transcripts of radio recordings from wildland fire incidents,to articulate the operative model of communication for firefighters (the model in use), how firefighters are socialized to communicate (best practices). We will assess those practices for their productivity and efficacy in helping firefighters to manage risks individually and collectively. We will then test these insights by observing a team during a simulation exercise. In doing so, we hope to help the fire community learn to diagnose and repair communication problems in the moment, as well as identify improvements for training and practice.

Principal Investigator: Anne E. Black

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Budget Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Rebekah L. Fox

Texas State University

Communication Studies

Co-Principal Investigator

Elena S. Gabor

Bradley University

Department of Communication

Co-Principal Investigator

David A. Thomas

Forest Service

RMRS-Human Factors & Risk Management RD&A

Co-Principal Investigator

Jennifer A. Ziegler

Valparaiso University

Department of Communication

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network




Great Basin

Great Plains

Lake States

Oak Woodlands

Northern Rockies




Southern Rockies









Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

There are no deliverables available for this project.

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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