Predictions in public: understanding the design, communication and dissemination of predictive maps to the public | Natural Hazards Research Australia

Predictions in public: understanding the design, communication and dissemination of predictive maps to the public

Incident management team. Photo: CFA
Project type

Core research

Project status

In progress

This project will optimise predictive map design and dissemination to ensure that these maps will support public protective action decision-making during a bushfire. Currently research interviews were undertaken with bushfire-affected residents to seek their experience with bushfire maps in the ACT, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria.

Project details

The use of fire predictions has received increasing attention since the 2019/2020 fire season when 'Red Maps' were released to the public in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.  The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC-funded Black Summer project, Established and emerging uses of predictive services,  found that there is much support amongst operations staff in Victoria for the dissemination of fire spread prediction maps to the public. Further, recent post-event inquiries have recommended greater use of fire spread predictions in public messaging.

However, the translation of inquiry recommendations and internal support into action remains contentious, especially without evidence-based guidelines on how predictive maps should be designed and communicated, and how and when they should be disseminated to the public.

The Steering Committee for this project comprises representatives from the AFAC Predictive Services Group, the AFAC Warnings Group from all Australian states and territories, and the Bureau of Meteorology. 

This project aims to define the role of fire predictions in agency communications with the public during an emergency, with three phases: 

Phase 1: Understanding the status quo. What do agencies aim to achieve by using the current public information and warnings products? How do members of the public comprehend and intend to use existing products? 

Phase 2: The primary objective of Phase 2 is to develop principles for the standardised use of predictive maps within the Australian Warning System. These guidelines will build on the results of Phase 1 by developing a set of maps based on the best practice principles and end user needs identified during that phase. These maps will be tested and validated with members of the community.

Best-practice map design takes an iterative, user-centred approach that involves end users across all stages of the design process (Lloyd and Dykes, 2011). Roth et al. (2015) note that successful design processes require the involvement of end users, and a focus on both the map’s utility (i.e., how well it functions) and usability (i.e., how easy it is to use). In other words, involving the community is fundamental to designing maps that work, most especially since communities have a range of information needs and levels of experience with both fires and bushfire maps. Therefore, in this project, a user-centred, multi-method approach will be used to explore and refine design alternatives through an iterative process. 

Phase 3: The objective of Phase 3 is to develop practical outputs that ensure that the results of the research conducted in the project are able to be utilised.

Phase 3 is divided into two activities, one focusing on the practical use of the evidence-based principles for public-facing predictive bushfire spread maps. The project team has a number of proposed uses for the principles, including:

  • the development of national doctrine on the use of maps through the AIDR handbook series, and/or,
  • training videos explaining best practice design and dissemination of public-facing predictive bushfire spread maps during bushfires, and/or
  • workshops to redesign existing maps and warning products.

The second activity will focus on continuous improvement. The project team will develop an evaluation and learning framework to provide a process that will enable the continuous improvement of nationally consistent public-facing predictive bushfire spread maps.