Photo Caption: Whether you’re talking about wildfire or prescribed fire, your words matter. Check out these resources and tips before your next outreach effort. In this photo, Yosemite National Park’s chief of fire and aviation, Kelly Martin, is explaining the ecological and community safety benefits of prescribed fire. Notice the homes along the right side of the photo. Photo by Yosemite National Park
1. Speak with more than words.
The Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network has developed some amazing visual aids regarding fire adapted communities (FAC) in recent years. The image to the left does a great job communicating the diversity of FAC regarding time, people and practice.
And, they’ve released a version without a logo (below), in case others want to use it! Please credit the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network when using it, though.
If you’re talking about FAC on your website or during a presentation, consider embedding the video below as well. It unpacks FAC and was also made by the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. A Spanish version is available as well (see #3 for more thoughts and resources regarding translating FAC materials).
2. Get organized.
If you’re talking about prescribed fire specifically, I can’t recommend Jenifer Bunty’s latest FAC Net blog enough. In Talking about Lighting Fire Near Recently Burned Communities: Communications at the Southern Blue Ridge TREX, Jenifer provides five succinct how-to’s applicable to anyone working on prescribed fire outreach. Think planning, photos and people. Get insight into the prescribed fire training that was covered by nine different media outlets!
Bonus: Be sure to check out Jenifer’s specific editorial calendaring and photo organization advice.
3. Communicate in the language(s) your audience speaks.
A surprising number of FAC resources, including those related to essential human safety matters like evacuation, are only available in English. In a country where about one in five people speak a language other than English at home, this is problematic. But we need more than word-for-word translations. As Maria Estrada puts it in Six Great Wildfire Adaptation Resources in Spanish: It’s About More than Word-for-Word Translations, “An accurate translation requires much more than a word-for-word conversion from one language to another. It requires thoughtful and respectful attention to the people you are trying to engage.” In that same post, Maria shares an annotated list of wildfire adaptation resources in Spanish that are clear, succinct and take audiences into consideration. If you have well translated FAC resources, please share them in the comments section below.
4. Use the Right Words
You know fire, but how good are you at talking about it? If I asked you to fill in the blank below with the phrase that you think residents would best understand, what would you say?
“Your neighborhood has ___________.”
Heavy fuel loading? Serious issues? A lot of flammable vegetation?
FAC Net recommends keeping it simple and going with the latter. Take this quiz and download the resource at the end for more fire messaging tips.
More on Prescribed Fire Outreach
With spring in full swing (in most areas), we’re seeing lots of controlled burns occurring across the country. Whether you’re the one doing the outreach for a burn or running the drip torch, make sure your team knows about these best practices.
5. Know where your audience really stands. In many areas, social license to burn is higher than you may think.
6. Meet them on “their” turf. Despite the point above, you still may encounter some opposition. Communicating Amidst Controversy: The Fire Learning Trail [An Interview with Jen Bunty] tells a story of how a podcast, strategic social media and a few interpretive signs have radically changed the prescribed fire conversation in the southern Appalachians.
Bonus: This post also discusses the initiation and evolution of the hashtag “#goodfire” on social media. A must-read for all fire and communication practitioners, alike!
7. Be deliberate. The Cascadia Conservation District, the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition and the Okanogan Conservation District developed a thorough prescribed fire outreach strategy in recent years. Learn more about their efforts by checking out Telling the “Good Fire” Story: Two Communities’ Prescribed Fire Outreach Efforts.
8. Access what’s already been created. In 2017, we published a collection of prescribed fire outreach materials in Prescribed Fire Outreach Assessment — The Verdict Is In. From fact sheets, to videos for newbies, to webinar archives, this post provides a comprehensive list of resources and more context. (These resources were collected as part of an assessment project, which is discussed at the beginning of the blog linked above.)
9. Brush up on your vocab.
Sometimes, nothing beats an old-fashioned dictionary. Check out Your Wildfire Terminology Dictionary (Well, A Blog Post Version of a Dictionary, at Least) to brush up on your fire vocabulary.
What works for you?
When it comes to FAC, what phrasing, materials and visuals work best in your community? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
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