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Project ID: 10-3-01-7

Year: 2010

Date Started: 06/15/2010

Date Completed: 08/23/2012

Title: The Role of Adaptive Capacity in Creating Fire Adapted Human Communities

Project Proposal Abstract: With this research we seek to answer the question: What are the social characteristics and conditions of human communities that promote adaptive capacity for wildfire? In human communities, vulnerability to disasters is influenced not only by exposure and biophysical characteristics, but also by demographic and social characteristics. Communities can temper their vulnerability by building resilience, the local capacity to absorb disturbance and reorganize to fully resume necessary functions. One vital component of resilience in human communities is adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is the ability of a social system to adjust to environmental changes through the mobilization of resources. We contend that an assessment of adaptive capacity should incorporate the collective ability of local people to actively prepare, mitigate and recover from hazards by reducing their vulnerability, and in this project we ask whether and how adaptive capacity contributes to fire adapted human communities. To answer our research question we will first review documents from communities involved in the Firewise Communities USA Program, Fire Safe Councils, and/or community wildfire protection planning to develop an initial list of characteristics of fire adapted communities, and to develop a model linking elements defining a fire adapted human community and adaptive capacity to build resiliency and reduce vulnerability to wildland fire. Although any model developed will ultimately need to be tested in a sample of at-risk communities, the next logical next step in developing the model is to consult with professionals in emergency services and wildland fire who have experience in dealing with a variety of communities that have faced wildfire events. We will convene state-level professionals for a day-long facilitated workshop in one eastern and one western state (yet to be determined). Discussion will center around the adaptive capacity to wildland fire in particular communities of the given state to better understand the actual behaviors leading to mitigation of wildland fire risk and the social factors that correlate with such collective behaviors. These behaviors and factors will contribute to our definition of fire adapted community. Finally, we will discuss the types of information that could be gathered to help better assess these social characteristics in a variety of communities. We will compile and synthesize the results of our document review and the statewide experts workshops. We will then convene a workshop of 6 to 10 international scholars from the disaster and hazards fields. At this workshop we will review and refine the dimensions of community adaptive capacity that the statewide experts identified as particularly important in fire risk situations with an eye toward modeling, quantifying, and assessing elements in a way that would be most useful for decision makers. As a result of this research, we will have a model linking conditions that define a fire adapted human community and those that enhance adaptive capacity, and hypotheses for future testing. We will also propose at least the starting point for rapid assessment tools that will consider and begin to measure the social elements of adaptive capacity. The research will provide guidance to more effectively and efficiently allocate resources to WUI communities to reduce risk and increase preparedness. The analogy to illustrate our point comes from precision agriculture just as not every spot in a farm field requires the same amount or type of fertilizer to be most productive, not all communities need the same kind or amount of help to become fire adapted. Incident Command Teams and others may also find such results helpful during fire incidents to quickly assess the community context in which they are being deployed.

Principal Investigator: Pamela J. Jakes

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: NRS-Northern Research Station

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

Matthew S. Carroll

Washington State University-Pullman

Department of Natural Resource Sciences

Federal Cooperator

Pamela J. Jakes

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Federal Fiscal Representative

David Garrison

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

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.")

  ID Type Title
view or print   71 Ph.D. Dissertation The Role of Adaptive Capacity in Creating Fire Adapted Human Communities (S.M. Newman)
view or print   3364 Journal Article Journal of Forestry
view or print   4867 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Natural Resource Scholars Workshop to Identify and Expand Initial Model of Elements of Adaptive Capacity
view or print   4635 Invited Paper/Presentation Identifying ’Fire-Adapted Communities’: A Framework of Adaptive Capacity
view or print   6819 Invited Paper/Presentation Adaptive Capacity for Wildfire: Local Level Case Studies in Florida and Montana
    6538 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Hazards Scholars Workshop to Identify and Expand Initial Model of Elements of Adaptive Capacity
view or print   5654 Final Report Supplement What is a Fire-Adapted Human Community? Similar Answers From Different Sources
view or print   6918 Invited Paper/Presentation Exploring the Social Characteristics of Adaptive Capacity to Wildfire: Insights From Flathead County, Montana
view or print   6919 Photo Economic Conditions in Florida have Resulted in Abandoned Homes that Contribute to the Wildfire Risk in Lee County
view or print   6920 Photo Focus Groups Were Used in Lee County, Florida and Flathead County, Montana to Identify Social Characteristics of Adaptive Capacity for Wildland Fire
view or print   6921 Photo Structural Condition, Including Development Patterns, Can Enable or Constrain Adaptive Capacity for Wildland Fire
view or print   7140 Invited Paper/Presentation Incorporating Adaptive Capacity Into Existing Concepts of Hazard Vulnerability and Resilience: What Social Characteristics Lead to Fire Adapted Human Communities?

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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