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16.02.2021

Staring at the Sun during Wildfire Season: Knowledge, Uncertainty, and Front-Line Resistance in Disaster Preparation

Zeitschrift:
Qualitative Sociology
Autor:
Alissa Cordner
Wichtige Hinweise

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Abstract

As climate change increases the frequency and severity of disasters, and population and social changes raise the public’s vulnerability to disaster events, societies face additional risk of multiple disaster events or other hazards occurring simultaneously. Such hazards involve significant uncertainty, which must be translated into concrete plans able to be implemented by disaster workers. Little research has explored how disaster managers incorporate different forms of knowledge and uncertainty into preparations for simultaneous hazards or disaster events, or how front-line disaster workers respond to and implement these plans. In this paper I draw on ethnographic research working as a wildland firefighter, interviews with firefighters and fire managers, and state and agency planning documents to examine preparations for two events occurring in Central Oregon in August 2017: (1) the height of wildfire season and (2) hundreds of thousands of anticipated visitors for a total solar eclipse. I find that different qualities of risk, hazard, and uncertainty across these two events were central to the development and implementation of disaster plans. Agency leaders devised worst-case scenario plans for the eclipse based on uncertain predictions regarding hazards from the eclipse and the occurrence of severe wildfires, aiming to eliminate the potential for unknown hazards. These plans were generally met with skepticism by front-line disaster workers. Despite the uncertainties that dominated eclipse-planning rhetoric, firefighters largely identified risks from the eclipse that were risks they dealt with in their daily work as firefighters. I conclude by discussing implications of these findings for conceptual understandings of disaster planning as well as contemporary concerns about skepticism and conspiracy theories directed at government planning and response to disaster events.

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