Rebuilding after disaster strikes

How research is helping to create resilient communities

From the moment Fort McMurray was first threatened by fire, Judith Kulig’s phone began ringing.

The University of Lethbridge Faculty of Health Sciences researcher has earned a reputation as a reliable and knowledgeable expert on issues related to wildfires. As the size of the Fort McMurray fire grew, so did the list of media looking to speak with Kulig. She estimates she was interviewed more than 15 times in just one week.

Kulig and her Rural Wildfire Study Group have been studying wildfire events in Western Canada over the last decade. Their work delves into the lives of those who have experienced wildfires, their communities’ resiliency and the health factors associated with recovery and rural sustainability.

Kulig’s research team has developed user-friendly resources, such as Lessons Learned booklets about each community they have studied, and short summaries of their findings.

“The media has responded positively to these materials,” says Kulig. “Sharing these with media when we are faced with devastating situations such as Fort McMurray highlights the importance of conducting relevant research.”

Kulig’s group has spoken with survivors of wildfires in Saskatchewan (Mallard Fire, 1999), Alberta (Lost Creek Fire, 2003; Slave Lake Fire, 2011) and British Columbia (McLure Fire, 2003). Their findings have led to policy directives and the establishment of disaster recovery protocols.

“By coincidence, in May 2011, I presented our wildfire research to provincial government officials in Edmonton,” says Kulig. “A few days later, the Slave Lake fires occurred. My presentation and the familiarity with our work led the provincial government to invite us to study the impacts of the fire in that community.”

Learn more about Kulig’s research

Photo: « Alberta Wildfires » / Government of Canada / CC BY-NC-ND