Natural Hazards

, Volume 90, Issue 1, pp 293–324 | Cite as

Defining the acceptable level of risk for civil protection purposes: a behavioral perspective on the decision process

  • Daniela Di Bucci
  • Lucia Savadori
Original Paper


This work analyzes how acceptable risk levels are determined in political decisions and related policies in the field of civil protection, i.e., regarding disaster risks and their reduction at the national and supranational level. We examined why establishing the acceptable level of risk is a political decision, and why this decision is not an easy task. Some behavioral elements which can de facto impede such a decision were recognized. Among these, the anomalies inherent in intertemporal choices, availability heuristic and mental accounting play a primary role, because they interfere with preferences for selfish versus others’ interests and with the evaluation of individual versus community gains and losses. Due to these processes, the political decision-maker, unless she is a statesperson, will easily prefer not to decide. Political decision-making, however, could be induced by a change of mind in the voters’ community. This reorientation of the society’s values and interests can be stimulated taking advance from research on social norms, which underlines the role played by some people that drive innovation in a community, e.g., the trendsetters. The scientific, technical and professional communities have the knowledge needed, are aware of the work to be done on the disaster risk reduction and can establish a direct relationship with single trendsetters and statespersons to promote decision-making on disaster risk reduction. Within this relationship, they can build trust, give advice and participate in in-depth discussions. In this interaction and collaboration, behavioral sciences can provide a valuable support for a better reciprocal understanding.


Risk Disaster risk reduction Political decision-making Risk perception Intertemporal choices Social norms 



This work has been carried out in the frame of a collaboration between the National School of Administration (Italy) and the LUISS University School of European Political Economy on the application of the behavioral sciences in the public administration. Fabrizio Cafaggi, Mauro Dolce and Giacomo Sillari are kindly acknowledged for their precious insights and fruitful discussions. The contents of this paper represent the authors’ ideas and do not necessarily correspond to the official opinion and policies of the Italian Department of Civil Protection.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Scientific Advisory Unit, National Department of Civil ProtectionPresidency of the Council of MinistersRomeItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Economia e ManagementUniversity of TrentoTrentoItaly

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