ForestFM: getting young people involved in forest fire prevention through radio

It is called ForestFM and it aims to involve young people in the promotion of attitudes and behaviours favourable to fire prevention among the populations most affected by the forest fires which have occurred in Portugal in recent years. In what way? By giving them the tools to create a collaborative radio programme that will help communities be more prepared to prevent the occurrence of forest fires and know how to act in situations of risk.

It will include dimensions related to the knowledge acquired by the population and the scientific and public health knowledge available, of which the young people will be ambassadors in their community. 

Coordinated by José Azevedo, from the Epidemiology Research Unit (EPIUnit) of the Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do Porto (ISPUP), the project began in February 2021 and is expected to last for three years. ForestFM will involve secondary school students from the central region of the country, who will be responsible for the creation of a radio programme about preventing and fighting forest fires.

Why radio?

“In Portugal, radio is the second most used media outlet, after television, and radio consumption habits were not very affected by the appearance of new media,” explains José Azevedo, who is also a professor at the Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto (FLUP).

Furthermore, “it is a type of media suited for the diffusion of information during fires, as it remains active even when communication via television or mobile phone collapses due to power outages or network coverage”, he adds. 

Radio is also a means of communication that is accessible to the consumer (easily available and without significant costs), familiar to most people and a facilitator of intergenerational communication.

For this reason, it was the media chosen to involve young people in collecting and sharing knowledge and experiences related to fires and preparing a risk communication programme.

The various stages of the project

With a duration of three years, ForestFM will involve secondary schools in the central region of the country, Rádio Jornal do Centro, and other stakeholders, such as the civil protection and firemen.

During the first stage, an analysis of the attitudes and knowledge of local communities about rural fires will be conducted. The researchers will assess what the students know about fires, study how the community uses the media to get information on the subject and analyse the radio news coverage of fires, between 2016 and 2019. 

In the second phase of the project, sessions will be organised in schools, aimed at teachers, on the importance of using radio as a communication tool to promote attitude and behaviour changes among the population and strengthen community ties.

In parallel, the students – key elements in the project – will participate in workshops to learn more on how to produce a radio programme. Afterwards, they will have to collect stories about local people’s concerns and experiences with fires, as well as meet with decision-makers and experts, such as local authorities and health and civil protection professionals, in order to include them in the programme they will produce.

After the information gathering and training phase, students from selected schools will create their radio programme, with the help of their teachers and Rádio Jornal do Centro. The transmission of the first episode will take place during a live event and there will be an open phone line to allow listeners to communicate with the students during the broadcast.

The project team intends to record 5 episodes throughout a school year, which will then be made available to the public through social media networks and the project website.

In the final stretch, the researchers will evaluate the project’s results and disseminate them in the scientific community and in the public sphere.

Reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience

José Azevedo hopes that ForestFM will contribute to “reducing the vulnerability and increasing the resilience of rural populations”, forming better prepared communities with a greater “sense of social and personal responsibility in protecting the natural landscape and preventing fires”.

The project, titled “ForestFM – Involving young people in rural fire prevention through a participative radio programme”, will also count on the participation of the Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto (FLUP), the Instituto Politécnico de Viseu (IPV), and Rádio Jornal do Centro.

Forest FM (PCIF/AGT/0087/2019) is funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), under the Contest for Scientific Research and Technological Development Projects within the scope of Forest Fire Prevention and Fighting – 2019.

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