User Needs Assessment for Postfire Debris-Flow Inundation Hazard Products

Open-File Report 2023-1025
Landslide Hazards Program
By: , and 



Debris flows are a type of mass movement that is more likely after wildfires, and while existing hazard assessments evaluate the rainfall intensities that are likely to trigger debris flows, no operational hazard assessment exists for identifying the areas where they will run out after initiation. Fifteen participants who work in a wide range of job functions associated with southern California postfire hazards were selected using purposive sampling for unstructured interviews about useful characteristics and needs for postfire debris-flow inundation hazard assessments. The interview guide was developed by a team of social and physical scientists following best practices for engaging with users. The guide focused on target information that could influence ongoing or not-yet-initiated research on debris-flow physics and hazard assessment methodology. Following standard methods for user needs assessment, the audio from the unstructured interviews was recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using a thematic coding scheme. Participants reported engaging with postfire debris-flow inundation as one of multiple postfire hazards and their information needs reflect this breadth. Most participants were from organizations with life and property mandates, and this focused their concerns on where debris-flow inundation could impact people’s physical safety, the ability of populations to egress, and damage to property. Common comments included, (1) the need to interpret inundation hazard assessments in the context of forecast rainfall—which are typically associated with different timeframes, 15 and 60 minutes, respectively; (2) the need to provide multiple scenarios in a hazard assessment to show how the hazard changes under different external factors such as varying rainfall intensity; and (3) the tension between fully reflecting all sources of uncertainty in identifying impacted areas and a high level of precision needed to determine evacuation zones in order to reduce evacuation fatigue. Participants saw utility in both low-resolution hazard assessments over large areas and fine-resolution targeted assessments over small areas, noting that the identification of target areas could pose an ethical challenge because some areas might be prioritized over others. Participants were concerned about the hazard posed by the continuum of postfire hydrologic hazards, including hyperconcentrated flows. Finally, participants recognized that the shrinking time window between the end of fire season and the start of the wet season in southern California makes the production, interpretation, and use of rapid postfire debris-flow inundation hazard assessments both important and challenging.

Suggested Citation

Barnhart, K.R., Romero, V.Y., and Clifford, K.R., 2023, User needs assessment for postfire debris-flow inundation hazard products: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2023–1025, 25 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Abstract
  • Introduction and Motivation
  • Elements of Postfire Debris-Flow Hazards
  • Connection with the USGS Risk Plan
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title User needs assessment for postfire debris-flow inundation hazard products
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2023-1025
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231025
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description vi, 25 p.
Country United States
State California
City Montecito
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details