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As wildfire smoke events increase in intensity and frequency in the Pacific Northwest, there is a growing need for effective communication on the health risks of smoke exposure. Delivery through a trusted source or intermediary has been shown to improve reception of risk communication messages. This is especially salient in rural and tribal communities who may be hesitant to trust information from state and federal agency sources. This study aims to identify and characterize trusted sources for smoke risk information in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area (ORAEA), a rural region of North Central Washington state that is heavily impacted by smoke from wildfires and prescribed fire. The research team conducted a qualitative study using data collected through key informant interviews and focus groups to assess the role of various sources and intermediaries in disseminating smoke risk information. We used a consensual coding approach in NVivo Qualitative Analysis Software to sort data into preliminary categories, which were grouped into themes using a thematic analysis approach. We used member checking and iterative feedback processes with local project partners throughout the project to ensure credibility of results. Through the analysis, we identified three themes characterizing trusted sources for smoke risk communication in the ORAEA. These themes were: (1) local and tribal sources of information are perceived as more trustworthy than state and federal government sources, (2) trustworthiness is determined by an evaluation of multiple factors, in particular, perceived credibility, quality of information, and relationship with the source, and (3) conservative political ideology and perceived parallels with COVID-19 communication influence perception of trust. Within each theme, we identified several sub-themes, which contributed additional nuance to our analysis. This study provides insights into which sources of information are trusted by rural and tribal community members in the ORAEA and why. Results from our study emphasize the importance of relationships and collaboration with local and tribal partners in smoke risk communication. In this paper, we discuss implications for state and federal agency practitioners and present recommendations for how to work with local and tribal partners on smoke risk communication. © 2022. This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply.


Leah M Wood, Savannah M D'Evelyn, Nicole A Errett, Ann Bostrom, Cody Desautel, Ernesto Alvarado, Kris Ray, June T Spector. When people see me, they know me; they trust what I say": characterizing the role of trusted sources for smoke risk communication in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area. BMC public health. 2022 Dec 20;22(1):2388

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PMID: 36539797

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