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People at Risk of Flooding: Why Some Residents Take Precautionary Action While Others Do Not

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Self-protective behavior by residents of flood-prone urban areas can reduce monetary flood damage by 80%, and reduce the need for public risk management. But, research on the determinants of private households’ prevention of damage by natural hazards is rare, especially in Germany. To answer the question of why some people take precautionary action while others do not, a socio-psychological model based on Protection Motivation Theory (PMT) is developed, explaining private precautionary damage prevention by residents’ perceptions of previous flood experience, risk of future floods, reliability of public flood protection, the efficacy and costs of self-protective behavior, their perceived ability to perform these actions, and non-protective responses like wishful thinking. The validity of the proposed model is explored by means of representative quantitative telephone surveys and regression analyses, and compared with a socio-economic model (including residents’ age, gender, income, school degree and being owner or tenant). Participants were 157 residents of flood-prone homes in Cologne, Germany, a city that has traditionally been subject to minor and major flood events. Results of the study show the explanatory power of the socio-psychological model, with important implications for public risk communication efforts. To motivate residents in flood-prone areas to take their share in damage prevention, it is essential to communicate not only the risk of flooding and its potential consequences, but also the possibility, effectiveness and cost of private precautionary measures.

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Correspondence to Torsten Grothmann.

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Grothmann, T., Reusswig, F. People at Risk of Flooding: Why Some Residents Take Precautionary Action While Others Do Not. Nat Hazards 38, 101–120 (2006).

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