IBS Speaker Series: Burning down the house: A field experiment on wildfire risk and household behavior

When: Monday, February 8th 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Where: Zoom link: https://cuboulder.zoom.us/j/98382278178 - email ibs-contact@colorado.edu for password.
Who: Hilary Byerly

Abstract: Wildfire organizations and government agencies increasingly seek to influence household behavior to reduce wildfire risk. Yet it is unclear how to capture homeowners’ attention and engage them in wildfire programs. Meanwhile, photos of flames and charred landscapes are commonly used in mainstream media to depict wildfire. A large body of evidence supports the power of imagery in influencing emotions, judgement and behavior. The present research asks whether such imagery could be an effective tool for wildfire programs. We conducted a pre-registered field experiment in a wildfire-prone city in the American West. Property owners in Ashland, Oregon (N = 5800) were mailed a postcard from the local fire department describing their properties’ wildfire risk and directing them to visit a personalized website to learn more. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive one of two versions of the postcard, which varied by the image on the front: either a photo of a burning house or a sunny photo of the local city. To contextualize the results of the field experiment, we surveyed wildfire practitioners (N = 133) and asked them to predict which photo would be more effective in engaging homeowners. Evidence on how to communicate risk, and whether people respond to different imagery about those risks, will aid in the design of more effective materials to better serve homeowners and the public interest in areas at risk from natural disasters.

Bio: Hilary Byerly is a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute of Behavioral Sciences. She is a behavioral economist who studies how people manage the natural environment, especially providing public benefits, like biodiversity and risk mitigation, from private lands. She uses insights from the decision sciences to inform more effective programs and policies. Her current research includes running field experiments with wildfire organizations to test behaviorally informed strategies for engaging households to reduce their wildfire risk. Hilary holds a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont, a M.S. in Applied Economics from Cornell University, and a B.A. in Environmental Studies and International Affairs from the University of Colorado, Boulder.