This paper aims to present on-going research on the role of social networks in community preparedness for bushfire. Social networks are significant in helping communities cope in disasters. Studies of communities hit by a catastrophe such as landslides or heatwaves demonstrate that people with well-connected social networks are more likely to recover than others where their networks are obliterated or non-existent. The value of social networks is also evident in bushfire where information is passed between family, friends and neighbours. Social interactions are important in creating opportunities for residents to exchange information on shared risks and can lead them to take collective actions to address this risk.
This paper presents on-going research on social networks of residents living in fire-prone areas in Australia to investigate how knowledge related to bushfire might flow, either in preparation for, or during a hypothetical emergency. A closer examination of social relations and characteristics within networks is critical in contextualizing this knowledge flow. This understanding will contribute to collected evidence that social networks play a particularly important role in collective action in building adaptive capacity.
The types of networks studied reflects how people’s emergent roles and their inter-relatedness with one another helps to build adaptive capacity and greater awareness of the risks they face from fire. In doing so, the paper questions individualized attributes of “leaders” that disaster literature can over-emphasize, and critiques notions “vulnerability” in a social network context. It demonstrates that social capital can be generated through emergent, contextual, processual factors.
The paper contributes critical knowledge and evidence for fire agencies to engage with community networks and support those people who are playing a vital catalytic, bridging and linking role to strengthen their potential for adaptive capacity in mitigating bushfire risk.
The authors would like to thank their team members in “Effective communication, community and bushfire project”, Bushfire CRC and the participants of our study; Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work and the Design Research Institute, RMIT University. Thanks also to the reviewers of this paper.
Akama, Y., Chaplin, S. and Fairbrother, P. (2014), "Role of social networks in community preparedness for bushfire", International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 277-291. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJDRBE-01-2014-0010Download as .RIS
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