Student researcher

Dr Cathy (Yinghui) Cao Research Leader

This PhD project focused on exploring an effective and efficient method to communicate bushfire risk related information to varying households during a bushfire event by harnessing the prevailing spatial technologies, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The overarching aim was to facilitate the deployment of risk information, and allow residents to perceive their own risk more accurately whilst promoting the choice of appropriate decisions under stress. In this regard, a personalised public warning framework has been conceived to convey location-based risk information along with household-specific action advices within WebGIS based environment. A web-mapping tool was then prototyped based on the conceptual framework, followed by assessment with end-users, i.e. residents living in fire prone areas, to design effective cartographic and general representations for conveying important bushfire information. It is believed that this study will provide an important step forward in exploiting GIS technologies for location-based, personalised public warnings, in order to substantially facilitate the perception of personal related risk and decision-making at the household level.

The overall project involved two major research phases. The first involves the conceptual design of the personalised bushfire warning framework, and development of the household action advice model which underlies the warning framework to support the modelling of individualised response guidance. Research questions investigated in the phase include:

  • How should an appropriate action be determined for an individual household based on the relevant bushfire risk indicators?
  • What factors are necessary in characterising household-specific risk in relation to the two potential safe actions (i.e. stay and defend or leave early) on a bushfire danger day?

The second phase draws upon the conceptualised model, and focuses on assessing users’ needs for designing the cartographic representation of the bushfire-risk information and the interactive features of the map-warning instrument. This phase involves a two-step evaluation approach, i.e. a users’ needs assessment via online surveys, and a usability and effective evaluation through semi-structured individual interviews. The design of the each step was directed by the following questions respectively

  • How can each element be spatially visualised to effectively enhance residents’ risk perception and facilitate proper response?
  • Does the communication of tailored action advices enhance residents’ risk perception and promote proper response?

Eventually, the evaluation results will be used for design refinement.

This project was recently completed, and Cathy was awarded her PhD by the University of Western Australia in March 2017.

Year Type Citation
2017 Journal Article Cao, Y., Boruff, B. J. & McNeill, I. M. The smoke is rising but where is the fire? Exploring effective online map design for wildfire warnings. Natural Hazards 88, 1473-1501 (2017).
2017 Journal Article Cao, Y., Boruff, B. J. & McNeill, I. M. Towards personalised public warnings: harnessing technological advancements to promote better individual decision-making in the face of disasters. International Journal of Digital Earth (2017). doi:10.1080/17538947.2017.1302007
2016 Journal Article Cao, Y., Boruff, B. J. & McNeill, I. M. Is a picture worth a thousand words? Evaluating the effectiveness of maps for delivering wildfire warning information. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 19, 179-196 (2016).
2016 Thesis Cao, Y. Effective communication of household wildfire risk through WebGIS: considerations in content, representation and design. (2016). at <>
2015 Journal Article Cao, Y., Boruff, B. J. & McNeill, I. M. Defining Sufficient Household Preparedness for Active Wildfire Defense: Toward an Australian Baseline. Natural Hazards Review 10, (2015).
2013 Report Cao, Y., Boruff, B. J. & McNeill, I. M. “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Defining the Preparatory Conditions in Support of Active Defence for Different Fire Danger Ratings. 2013 Research Forum (2013). at <>