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Opportunity at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Modeling the Social Aspects of Wildland-Urban Interface Fires and other Disasters


Engineering Laboratory, Fire Research Division

RO# Location
50.73.31.C0110 Gaithersburg, MD

Please note: This Agency only participates in the February and August reviews.


Name E-mail Phone
Kuligowski, Erica Dawn 301-975-2309


Each year, over 80,000 wildfires burn, of which 2 to 3 % of these fires spread into nearby communities, known as wildland-urban interface (WUI) fires, and damage or destroy approximately 3,000 homes each year. A total of $14 billion in direct losses can be attributed to these fires per year, and much of these losses include damage to homes and suppression costs. Recent wildfires have demonstrated that trends in damage and destruction are only getting worse, with 4 of the top 20 most destructive California wildfires occurring in 2017. Recent years have also seen higher numbers of deaths in wildfires than in previous years, with 14 deaths attributed to the Chimney Tops 2 fire in 2016 (Gatlinburg, TN) and 22 deaths attributed to the Tubbs fire in 2017 (Northern California).

While there are projects ongoing at NIST studying the physical aspects of WUI fires, this project focuses on studying the social aspects of WUI fires, including: a) community/homeowner mitigation actions; b) homeowner/household decision-making and behavior during fires (including evacuation and shelter-in-place behavior) and the factors that influence these behaviors; c) post-fire response and recovery actions; and d) WUI fire policies, planning, and notification/communication among officials and between officials and the public. Additionally, there may be opportunities to expand this work into areas involving other disasters and emergency events, in collaboration with the Disaster and Failure Studies Program at NIST. Studying the social aspects of WUI fires and potentially other disasters at NIST has led to the development of and improvements to building codes, standards and guidance on emergency communication, evacuation and sheltering, as well as behavioral frameworks for simulation techniques that aim to predict disaster impacts, human response, and the consequences of their intersection.

Literature References:

Kuligowski, E.D. “Burning Down the Silos: Integrating new perspectives from the social sciences into human behavior in fire research” Fire and Materials 41(5), 389-411, 2017.

Kuligowski, E., Lombardo, F., and Phan, L. “Human Response to and Consequences of the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado” Pp. 311 – 350 in Extreme Weather, Health and Communities: An interdisciplinary approach to engagement strategies, Springer Publishing, NY, 2016.

Kuligowski, E.D., Gwynne, S.M.V., Kinsey, M.J., and Hulse, L. “Guidance for the Model User on Representing Human Behavior in Egress Models” Fire Technology, 53(2), 649-672, 2017.

Preparedness; Response; Recovery; Emergency communications; Evacuation; Human behavior; Modeling; Disasters; Wildfires


Citizenship:  Open to U.S. citizens
Level:  Open to Postdoctoral applicants
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