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Risk perception, sense-making and resilient performance: the sounds of wildland firefighting in action - Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program

Author(s): Anne E. Black, David Thomas, J. Ziegler, Elena Gabor, Rebekah L. Fox
Year Published: 2016

Managing wildland fire is an exercise in risk perception, sensemaking and resilient performance. Risk perception begins with individual size up of a wildfire to determine a course of action, and then becomes collective as the fire management team builds and continuously updates their common perception of risk. Karl Weick has called this “sensemaking.” 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 team’s performance is. Because all subsequent actions rely on this, the sensemaking involved with risk perception is a critical activity. It is hard work and prone to error, as numerous accident reviews, in the U. S. and abroad, have found. Although advances are being made in the structure of current reviews – such as by including human factors analyses, which helpfully focus on psychological factors (attention, fatigue, etc.) - resilient performance also 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 sought to identify areas of communication competencies and constraints that affect the perception and communication of risk in wildland fire management. In doing so, we develop- for the first time - a comprehensive and coordinated perspective on communication, resulting in a set of insights into training, practice, and assessment to support continuous improvement in risk perception, sensemaking, and resilient performance.

Citation: Black A, Thomas D, Ziegler J, Gabor E, Fox R. 2016. Risk perception, sense-making and resilient performance: the sounds of wildland firefighting in action. Final report to the Joint Fire Science Program, Project 14-2-01-11. Boise, ID: Joint Fire Science Program, 77 p.
Topic(s): Human Dimensions of Fire Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Decisionmaking & Sensemaking, Risk, Operational
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Technical Report or White Paper
NRFSN number: 15572
FRAMES RCS number: 22819
Record updated: Jun 25, 2018