Playing with Fire: Social Interactions and Homeowners’ Wildfire Mitigation Behaviors

Katherine Dickinson

Collaborators: Hannah Brenkert-Smith (CU-IBS), Nicholas Flores (CU-Economics & IBS), Patricia Champ (USFS)

Homeowners’ decisions in fire-prone areas play a crucial role in shaping wildfire occurrence and, especially, impacts. These decisions are interdependent: what one household does can affect the choices of neighbors and other social contacts. Conceptually, there are at least five pathways through which social interactions among homeowners in fire-prone areas can influence mitigation choices: information and learning; social amplification of risk perceptions; risk interdependency (or risk externalities); social norms; and social capital. Using survey data from Boulder and Larimer counties, we have shown that social interactions have multiple and varying relationships with risk perceptions, beliefs about mitigation options and wildfire risk mitigation behaviors (particularly actions to reduce vegetative fuels on one’s property). However, inferring causality from these observational relationships can be difficult. This motivates an in-progress study employing choice experiments in a web-based survey of homeowners living in fire-prone areas of Colorado’s Western Slope to measure the effects of risk interdependency, social norms, and costs on risk reduction decisions. By combining experimental and observational approaches, this body of research seeks to deepen our understanding of the role(s) of social interactions in shaping risk-related decisions, and the ways in which policies and programs can harness the power of these social effects to encourage homeowners to take action. This project is funded by a grant from the NSF’s Decision Risk and Management Sciences program.