Role and value of predictive service products | Natural Hazards Research Australia

Role and value of predictive service products

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

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Resilient communities

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Author Timothy Neale , Gabrielle Miller , Chloe Begg , Paula Dootson , Erica Kuligowski , Amy Griffin , Graham Dwyer , Angela Gardner

Bushfire simulation models and other predictive tools are increasingly used to inform operational and planning decisions, foremost through the production and use of predictive fire spread maps (FSMs). These maps show the predicted extent of a given fire over a given time period. Prior to the 2019-2020 bushfire season, such maps were occasionally shown to members of the public, however during that landmark season agencies in NSW and ACT produced, communicated, and disseminated select FSMs to the public. Subsequently, the Predictions in public: understanding the design, communication and dissemination of predictive maps to the public research project has been established to work with sector stakeholders and relevant communities to optimise predictive map design and dissemination. The ultimate aim of the project is to help ensure that any future predictive FSMs will support public protective action decision-making during a bushfire.

This report presents the results of Work Package 3 (WP3) of Phase 1 of the "Predictions in Public” project. WP3 seeks to help gain an overview of: the existing public information and warnings products; the potential role and value of additional predictive service products; and the views of sector experts with experience producing, communicating, and/or disseminating predictive FSMs. To this end, the project team conducted 44 interviews with identified sector experts, asking them about their experience of these issues and the anticipated benefits and risks of releasing predictive FSMs to the public in the future.

Participants asserted that the primary benefits would be increased public risk awareness, reduced bushfire impacts, increased access to hazard information, and increased agency credibility. The primary risks, in their view, were risks to the public from the misinterpretation or misuse of FSMs and risks to agencies from possible legal, reputational, or political consequences from publicly releasing or withholding FSMs. Overall, no participants were opposed to releasing predictive FSMs to the public in the future.

Asked about the barriers to releasing predictive FSMs to the public in the future, participants noted the persistent presence of risk aversion within agencies, the current lack of appropriate resourcing and training support, the current lack of public education regarding predictive FSMs, and the current lack of agreed processes, platforms, and formats.

On the matter of when and how predictive FSMs should be produced, communicated, and disseminated in the future, participants had a range of insights. Nonetheless, there was broad consensus that these products would be best reserved for impactful fires during extreme or catastrophic fire weather conditions and should be produced and designed as a specific product distinct from the FSMs currently generated for use by emergency management sector practitioners. In terms of communication, participants drew attention to the need for agencies to communicate predictive FSMs’ assumptions and uncertainties and stated that predictive FSMs should be formatted consistently across jurisdictions and use a simple and clear visual hierarchy. Considering how these FSMs should be disseminated, the majority of participants supported broadcasting rather than narrowcasting these products, suggesting that agencies should use a range of digital dissemination platforms including agency apps and social media.

In sum, the findings of WP3 suggest that sector practitioners are generally positive about the future public use of predictive FSMs, identifying a range of benefits that ultimately outweigh the risks to the public and agencies of developing this new product. Their insights will be of great value to a number of audiences, including the project team, who will investigate public awareness of predictive products and test and evaluate predictive FSMs in subsequent work packages.

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