The missing link between flood risk awareness and preparedness: findings from case studies in an Alpine Region

Abstract

The low risk awareness of the residents living in flood-prone areas is usually considered among the main causes of their low preparedness, which in turns generates inadequate response to natural disasters. In this paper, we challenge this assumption by reporting on the results of a sociological research in four communities exposed to flood risk in the Eastern Italian Alps. The research design included semi-structured interviews and focus groups with key local stakeholders and a standardized questionnaire submitted to 400 residents. Results revealed that residents felt both slightly worried about flood risk and slightly prepared to face an event. Considerable differences were found between the evaluations of individual subjects as opposed to overall communities. There was also a clear discrepancy between the actual adoption of household preparatory measures and the willingness to take self-protection actions. Overall, the risk awareness was significantly higher among those residents who had been personally affected by a flood in the past, were living in isolated (vs. urban) communities, in the most risky areas or had a lower level of trust in local authorities. The improvement of residents’ knowledge about their environment and the residual risk seemed to be crucial to increase risk awareness, and the same was true for the strengthening of local support networks to foster preparedness. The link between risk awareness and preparedness was not at all straightforward. Results revealed instead the complexity of residents’ perspectives, attitudes, behaviours and decisions about risk-related issues.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Ajzen I, Fishbein M (1980) Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Blackwell, London

    Google Scholar 

  2. Baan P, Klijn F (2004) Flood risk perception and implications for flood risk management in the Netherlands. Int J River Basin Manag 2:113–122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Beck U (1992) Risk society: toward a new modernity. Sage, London

    Google Scholar 

  4. Benessia A, Funtowicz S, Bradshaw S, Ferri F, Ra′ez-Luna EF, Medina CP (2012 forthcoming) Hybridizing sustainability: towards a new praxis for the present human predicament. Sustain Sci. doi:10.1007/s11625-011-0150-4

  5. Borga M, Anagnostou EN, Blöschl G, Creutin JD (2010) Flash Floods: observations and analysis of hydrometeorological controls. J Hydrol 394(1–2):1–3. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2010.07.048

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Borga M, Anagnostou EN, Blöschl G, Creutin JD (2011) Flash flood forecasting, warning and risk management: the HYDRATE project. Environ Sci Policy 14:834–844

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Burby R, French S (1981) Coping with floods: the land use management paradox. J Am Plan As 47:289–300

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Burningham K, Fielding J, Thrush J (2008) It’ll never happen to me: understanding public awareness of local flood risk. Disasters 31:216–238

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bye P, Horner M, Easter 1998 floods (1998) Report by the independent review team to the board of environment agency. Environment Agency 1, London

  10. Carolan M (2007) The precautionary principle and traditional risk assessment: rethinking how we assess and mitigate environmental threats. Organ Environ 20:5–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cave B, Cragg L, Gray J, Parker D, Pygott K, Tapsell S (2009) Understanding of and response to severe flash flooding. UK Environment Agency, DEFRA, Bristol

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cialdini RB (2001) Influence: science and practice. Harper-Collins, New York

    Google Scholar 

  13. Creutin, JD, Borga M, Lutoff C, Scolobig A, Ruin I, Creton-Cazanave C (2009) Catchment dynamics and social response during flash floods: the potential of radar rainfall monitoring for warning procedures. Meteorol Appl 16:115–125. doi:10.1002/met.128; http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/met.128

  14. De Marchi B, Scolobig A, Delli Zotti G, Del Zotto M (2007) Risk construction and social vulnerability in an Italian Alpine Region. Report T11-07-12 of FLOODsite Integrated Project, available at http://www.floodsite.net/html/publications2.asp?ALLdocs=on&Submit=View (last access: 09 August 2009)

  15. Deeming H (2008) Increasing resilience to storm surge flooding: risks, social networks and local champions. In: Samuels P, Huntington S, Allsop W, Harrop J (eds) Flood risk management: research and practice. CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, London (Proceedings of the European Conference on Flood Risk Management. Research into Practice, Oxford, UK 30 Sept–2 Oct 2008), Also in CD-Rom. Leiden: CRC Press/Balkema: 945–955

  16. Douglas M (1985) Risk acceptability according to social sciences. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  17. Douglas M, Wildavsky A (1982) Risk and culture. University of California Press, Berkeley

    Google Scholar 

  18. Dynes R (1974) Organised behaviour in disasters. Ohio State University Press, Columbus

    Google Scholar 

  19. Eagly A, Chaiken S (1993) The psychology of attitudes. HBJ, London

    Google Scholar 

  20. Enserink B (2004) Thinking the unthinkable- the end of the Dutch river dike system? Exploring a new safety concept for the river management. J Risk Res 7:745–757

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Fazio R, Williams C (1986) Attitude accessibility as a moderator of the attitude-perception and attitude-behaviour relations: an investigation of the 1984 presidential election. J Pers 51:505–514

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Fink A, Ulbrich U, Engel H (1996) Aspects of the January 1995 flood in Germany. Weather 51:34–39

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Fischhoff B, Bostrom A, Quadrel M (1993) Risk perception and communication. Annu Rev Public Health 14:183–203

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Fischhoff B, Slovic P, Lichtenstein S (1979) Which risks are acceptable? Environment 21:17–38

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Floyd D, Prentice-Dunn S, Rogers RW (2000) A meta-analysis of research on protection motivation theory. J Appl Soc Psychol 30:407–429

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Fordham M (1992) Choice and constraint in flood hazard mitigation: the environmental attitudes of floodplain residents and engineers, PhD Dissertation, Middlesex University

  27. Giddens A (1990) The consequences of modernity. Polity Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  28. Green C, Tunstall S, Fordham M (1991) The risks from flooding: which risks and whose perception? Disasters 15:227–236

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Grothmann T, Reusswig F (2006) People at risk of flooding. Why some residents take precautionary action while others do not. Nat Hazards 38:101–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Gruntfest E (1987) Warning dissemination and response with short lead times. In: Handmer J (ed) British and international perspectives. GEO Books, Norwich, UK, pp 191–206

    Google Scholar 

  31. Handmer J (2000) Improving flood warning in Europe: a research and policy agenda. Environ Hazard 3:19–28

    Google Scholar 

  32. Harries T (2008) Feeling secure or being secure? Why it can seem better not to protect yourself against a natural hazard. Health Risk Soc 10:479–490

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Hoekstra A (1998) Appreciation of water: four perspectives. Water Policy 1:605–622

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Höppner C, et al (2010) Risk communication and natural hazards, research report, Del. 5.1., CapHaz-Net social capacity building for natural hazards—toward more resilient societies, European Commission 6th framework programme http://caphaz-net.org/outcomes-results/CapHaz-Net_WP5_Risk_Communication.pdf

  35. ISTAT (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica) (2001) 14° Censimento Generale della Popolazione e delle Abitazioni’. ISTAT, Roma

  36. Jasanoff S (1998) The political science of risk perception. Reliab Eng Syst Saf 59:91–99

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Johnson B, Covello V (1987) The social and cultural construction of risk. Reidel, Dordrecht

    Book  Google Scholar 

  38. Kundzewicz Z, Mendel L (2003) Flood risk and vulnerability in the changing world, international conference: towards natural flood reduction strategies, Warsaw

  39. La Piere R (1934) Attitudes versus action. Soc Forces 13:230–237

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lindell M, Whitney D (2000) Correlates of household seismic hazard adjustment adoption. Risk Anal 20:13–25

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Llasat M, Siccardi F (2010) A reflection about the social and technological aspects in flood risk management—the case of the Italian Civil Protection, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Science 10:109–119, www.nat-hazards-earth-syst-sci.net/10/109/2010/

  42. Marchi L, Borga M, Preciso E, Gaume E (2010) Characterisation of selected extreme flash floods in Europe and implications for flood risk management. J Hydrol 394:118–133. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2010.07.017

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Marradi A (2007) Metodologia delle scienze sociali. Il Mulino, Bologna

    Google Scholar 

  44. Marsh K, Wallace H (2005) The influence of attitudes on beliefs: formation and change. In: Albarracin D, Johnson B, Zanna MP (eds) The handbook of attitudes. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, New York, pp 369–397

    Google Scholar 

  45. McCarthy S, Penning-Rowsell E, Tunstall S (2008) Public attitudes to ‘community based’ small scale flood risk reduction measures in England: a case study in the Lower Thames catchment. In: Bosher LS (ed) Hazards and the built environment: attaining built-in resilience. Taylor & Francis, London

    Google Scholar 

  46. Miceli R, Sotigiu I, Settanni M (2008) Disaster preparedness and perception of flood risk: a study in an alpine valley in Italy. J Environ Psychol 28:164–173

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Mileti D, Brien P (1992) Warnings during disaster: normalizing communicated risk. Soc Probl 39:40–57

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Misztal B (1996) Trust in modern societies. Polity Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  49. Morris-Oswald O, Sinclair T (2005) Values and floodplain management: case studies from the Red River Basin, Canada. Environ Hazards 6:9–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Mucchi Faina G (1996) L’influenza sociale. Il Mulino, Bologna

    Google Scholar 

  51. Neuwirth K, Dunwoody S, Griffin R (2000) Protection motivation and risk communication. Risk Anal 20:721–734

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Norbiato D, Borga M, Degli Esposti S, Gaume E, Anquetin S (2008) Flash flood warning based on rainfall depth-duration thresholds and soil moisture conditions: an assessment for gauged and ungauged basins. J Hydrol 362:274–290. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2008.08.023

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Parker D, Priest S, McCarthy S (2011) Exploring surface water flood warning requirements and potential in England and Wales. Appl Geogr 31:891–900

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Paton D, Smith L, Johnston D (2000) Volcanic hazards: risk perception and preparedness. N Z J Psychol 29:84–88

    Google Scholar 

  55. Peek L, Mileti D (2002) The history and future of disaster research. In: Betchell A, Churchmann S (eds) Handbook of environmental psychology. Wiley, New York, pp 511–524

    Google Scholar 

  56. Petty R, Krosnick J (1995) Attitude strength: antecedents and consequences. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, New York

    Google Scholar 

  57. Plapp T (2001) Perception and evaluation of natural risks. Institute for Insurance of the University of Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe

    Google Scholar 

  58. Plapp T, Werner U (2006) Understanding risk perception from natural hazards: examples from Germany. Risk 21:101–108

    Google Scholar 

  59. Renn O (2008) Risk governance. Coping with uncertainty in a complex world. Earthscan, London

    Google Scholar 

  60. Renn O, Rohrmann B (2000) Cross-cultural risk perception research: state and challenges. In: Renn O, Rohrmann B (eds) Cross-cultural risk perception: a survey of empirical studies. Kluwer, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  61. Rosenberg M (1968) Mathematical models of social behavior. In: Lindzey G, Aronson A (eds) The handbook of social psychology, vol 1. Addison-Wesley, Massachusetts

    Google Scholar 

  62. Ross M, Mcfarland C, Fletcher G (1981) The effect of attitude on the recall of personal histories. J Pers Soc Psychol 40:627–634

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Ruin I, Creutin J-D, Anquetin S, Lutoff C (2008) Human exposure to flash-floods—relation between flood parameters and human vulnerability during a storm of September 2002 in Southern France. J Hydrol. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2008.07.044

    Google Scholar 

  64. Scolobig A (2008) Le dinamiche sociali del rischio e della vulnerabilità. L’esperienza di Malborghetto-Valbruna [The social dynamics of risk and vulnerability. The Malborghetto-Valbruna case-study], PhD Dissertation, Udine University

  65. Scolobig A, Castan-Broto V, Zabala A (2008) Integrating multiple perspectives in social multicriteria evaluation of flood mitigation alternatives. The case of Malborghetto-Valbruna. Environ Plan C Gov Policy 26:1143–1161

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Siegrist M, Gutscher H (2008) Natural hazards and motivation for mitigation behavior: people cannot predict the affect evoked by a severe flood. Risk Anal 28:771–778

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Skiple Ibreek A, Krasovkaia I, Gottschalk L, Berg H (2005) Perception and communication of flood risk—preliminary results from the flows project. International Conference on Innovation Advances and Implementation of Flood Forecasting Technology, Norway

    Google Scholar 

  68. Slovic P (1987) Perception of risk. Science 236:280–285

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Slovic P (2000) The perception of risk. Earthscan, London

    Google Scholar 

  70. Starr C (1969) Social benefit versus technological risk: what is our society willing to pay for safety? Science 165:1232–1238

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Stefanovic D (2003) The contribution of philosophy to hazard assessment and decision making. Nat Hazards 28:229–247

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Steinführer A, De Marchi B, Kuhlicke C, Scolobig A, Tapsell S, Tunstall S (2009) Vulnerability, resilience and social constructions of flood risk in exposed communities. A cross-country comparison of case studies in Germany, Italy and the UK, Report T11-07-12 of FLOODsite Integrated Project, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research—UFZ, Leipzig

  73. Steinführer A, Kuhlicke C (2007) Social vulnerability and the 2002 flood. Country report Germany (Mulde river). Report T11-07-08 of FLOODsite Integrated Project, http://www.floodsite.net/html/publications2.asp?ALLdocs=on&Submit=View

  74. Steinführer A, Kuhlicke C, De Marchi B, Scolobig A, Tapsell S, Tunstall S (2009), Local communities at risk from flooding: social vulnerability, resilience and recommendations for flood risk management in Europe. Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research—UFZ, Leipzig http://www.ufz.de/data/Task11_Broschuere_7-0911060.pdf

  75. Strydom P (2002) Risk, environment and society. Open University Press, Buckingham

    Google Scholar 

  76. Tapsell SM, Tunstall SM (2008) I wish I’d never heard of Banbury’: the relationship between ‘place’ and the health impacts of flooding. Health Place 14:133–154

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Tapsell SM, Penning-Rowsell EC, Tunstall SM, Wilson TL (2002) Vulnerability to flooding: health and social dimensions. Philos Trans R Soc A: Math Phys Eng Sci 360(1796):1511–1525

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Terpstra T, Lindell M, Gutteling J (2009) Does communicating (flood) risk affect (flood) risk perceptions? Results of a quasi-experimental study. Risk Anal 29:1141–1155

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Thompson M, Ellis R, Wildavsky A (1990) Cultural theory. Boulder, Co., Westview Press

  80. Thrush D, Burningham K, Fielding J (2005) Exploring flood-related vulnerability: a qualitative study. Environment Agency R and D Report W5C-018/3 Bristol: Environment Agency ISBN 1 844324206

  81. Tierney K, Lindell M, Perry L (2001) Facing the unexpected. Disaster preparedness and response in the United States. Joseph Henry Press, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  82. Wachinger G, Renn O, Bianchizza C, Coates T, De Marchi B, Domènech L, Jakobson I, Kuhlicke C, Lemkow L, Pellizzoni L, Piriz A, Saurí D, Scolobig A, Steinführer A, Supramaniam M, Whittle R (2010), Risk perception and natural hazards, Research Report, Del. 5.1., CapHaz-Net Social capacity building for natural hazards—toward more resilient societies, European Commission 7th Framework Programme http://caphaz-net.org/outcomes-results/CapHaz-Net_WP3_Risk_Perception.pdf, 111 pp

  83. Weinstein N, Lyon J, Rothman A, Cuite C (2000) Preoccupation and affect as predictors of protective action following natural disaster. Br J Health Psychol 5:351–363

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The research was funded by the EC Sixth Framework Programme funded project FLOODsite (http://www.floodsite.net) Contract GOCE-CT-2004-505420. ISIG and the University of Padova were partners of the project. At the time of the research, Bruna De Marchi and Anna Scolobig were both associated with ISIG. We wish to thank all the colleagues who provided us with professional advice and collaboration, the key informants in the provinces of Trento and Bolzano/Bozen, who devoted their time to our interviews and focus groups, the interviewers who conducted the surveys in Bocenago, Romagnao, Roveré della Luna and Vermiglio-Rio Cortina, and, last but not least, the survey respondents.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anna Scolobig.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Scolobig, A., De Marchi, B. & Borga, M. The missing link between flood risk awareness and preparedness: findings from case studies in an Alpine Region. Nat Hazards 63, 499–520 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0161-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Flood risk awareness
  • Preparedness
  • Attitude-behaviour link
  • Communication strategies