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Risk Governance of Limited-Notice or No-Notice Natural Hazards

Summary and Keywords

The second priority of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 stresses that, to efficiently manage risk posed by natural hazards, disaster risk governance should be strengthened for all phases of the disaster cycle. Disaster management should be based on adequate strategies and plans, guidance, and inter-sector coordination and communication, as well as the participation and inclusion of all relevant stakeholders—including the general public. Natural hazards that occur with limited-notice or no-notice (LNN) challenge these efforts.

Different types of natural hazards present different challenges to societies in the Global North and the Global South in terms of detection, monitoring, and early warning (and then response and recovery). For example, some natural hazards occur suddenly with little or no warning (e.g., earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, snow avalanches, flash floods, etc.) whereas others are slow onset (e.g., drought and desertification). Natural hazards such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and floods may unfold at a pace that affords decision-makers and emergency managers enough time to affect warnings and to undertake preparedness and mitigative activities. Others do not. Detection and monitoring technologies (e.g., seismometers, stream gauges, meteorological forecasting equipment) and early warning systems (e.g., The Australian Tsunami Warning System) have been developed for a number of natural hazard types. However, their reliability and effectiveness vary with the phenomenon and its location. For example, tsunamis generated by submarine landslides occur without notice, generally rendering tsunami-warning systems inadequate.

Where warnings are unreliable or mis-timed, there are serious implications for risk governance processes and practices. To assist in the management of LNN events, we suggest emphasis should be given to the preparedness and mitigation phases of the disaster cycle, and in particular, to efforts to engage and educate the public. Risk and vulnerability assessment is also of paramount importance. The identification of especially vulnerable groups, appropriate land use planning, and the introduction and enforcement of building codes and reinforcement regulations, can all help to reduce casualties and damage to the built environment caused by unexpected events. Moreover, emergency plans have to adapt accordingly as they may differ from the evacuation plans for events with a longer lead-time. Risk transfer mechanisms, such as insurance, and public-private partnerships should be strengthened, and redevelopment should consider relocation and reinforcement of new buildings. Finally, participation by relevant stakeholders is a key concept for the management of LNN events as it is also a central component for efficient risk governance. All relevant stakeholders should be identified and included in decisions and their implementation, supported by good communication before, during, and after natural hazard events.

The implications for risk governance of a number of natural hazards are presented and illustrated with examples from different countries from the Global North and the Global South.

Keywords: risk governance, no-notice natural hazards, early warning systems, participation, preparedness, Global North, Global South


UNISDR (UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction) and EM-DAT (Emergency Events Database) statistics show that human and material losses from natural hazards and disasters rose steadily throughout the 20th century. Losses were punctuated by sudden onset, large magnitude events that took significant lives (Munich RE, 2016). From the mid-20th century, the field of emergency or disaster management developed, building on insights and contributions from many disciplines. A set of more-or-less uniform guidelines and principles have been adopted around the world that governments, emergency management agencies, and communities use to manage risk that falls under an umbrella of “risk governance.” However, losses from natural hazards and disasters are rising, and the impacts are unevenly distributed. The poor and marginalized are more heavily impacted and low and middle-income countries bear the brunt of disaster impacts globally—especially those in the so called “Global South” (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), 2015; Hallegatte, Vogt-Schilb, Bangalore, & Rozenberg, 2017). This is a fact not only for countries of the Global South but also for parts of the population of countries of the Global North such as the United States (Fothergill & Peek, 2004).

Recent large regional events such as the 2004 and 2011 earthquakes and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and Japan respectively, as well as more localized events like avalanches, flash floods, and landslides, have highlighted the importance of preparedness in the absence of sufficient early warning and response times. LNN events may lead to significant loss of life since the time for evacuation or protection is limited. Examples include shallow landslides and debris flows that are relatively localized, related to a variety of mechanisms, and have different speeds of occurrence and warning. A landslide in Oso, Washington, in 2014, that caused 43 deaths (Wartman et al., 2016), occurred rapidly and without warning, whereas landslides and debris flows that killed more than 5,000 people in 2013 in Uttarakhand, India reached the northern part of Kedarnath in just 5–7 mins (Champati Ray, Chattoraj, Bisht, Kannaujiya, Pandey, & Goswami, 2016), allowing limited time for local response. The recent debris flows in June 2017 in Sichuan China claimed the lives of at least 15 people, with many more still missing. The landslide process not only evolved rapidly but also occurred very early in the morning when most of the people were sleeping (BBC, 2017). Snow avalanches also occur with limited warning. Although they mainly affect skiers or hikers, they occasionally cause damage in inhabited areas, to buildings and infrastructure. Although significant advancements have been made in avalanche monitoring and warning, events like the one in Galtür (Austria) in 1999 which claimed 31 lives clearly show that snow avalanches may strike quickly, without warning and cause significant devastation (Höller, 2007). With respect to coastal hazards, while tropical cyclones may impact large areas and claim numerous lives, they are monitored allowing sufficient time for evacuation. Conversely, the response time available before coastal tsunami inundation depends on the generation mechanism and distance to source (where the tsunami is earthquake related). However, the availability of early warning systems, public awareness, and education initiatives have definitely saved lives. Last, earthquakes allow almost no warning despite the efforts to identify prediction and early warning signals (UNEP, 2012). The available time for response defines the way professionals, scientists, authorities, and communities prepare for and manage the risk of such processes.

Our aim is to provide an overview of the main issues in risk governance related to LNN events. A historical overview of the evolution of risk governance for LNN hazards is provided followed by a state-of-the-art summary. Emphasis is given to the development of people-centered early warning systems, activities promoting participation and multi-stakeholder involvement, as well as preparedness for communities including public awareness and information efforts. Examples from the Global North and the Global South are provided.

Risk Governance Issues Related to the Management of Limited- and No-Notice Events

Evolution of Traditions of Disaster Risk Reduction

Disasters are not a modern construct. Although it is understood that recent human development has significantly contributed to increasing frequency and magnitude of some hazard events through climate change, coupled with an increase of vulnerability through overdevelopment, mismanagement of floodplains, poverty, political instability, social inequality and marginalization in many parts of the world, natural hazards have always affected humanity in catastrophic ways. Evidence from past events (e.g., bodies in hardened ash in Pompeii, Italy, were reconstructed centuries later with a method of casting, revealing that the population was not prepared and did not evacuate before the eruption of Vesuvius) clearly shows that people were often inadequately prepared to respond to the forces of nature. For many, natural hazards were considered to be acts of God sent as punishment for sinful behaviors and inappropriate life styles. Although this fatalistic perception towards natural hazards prevented societies from taking action, there is still enough evidence that societies started studying destructive natural processes and their warning signs very early in history and made significant efforts to protect lives and property (Smith & Petley, 2009). During the Minoan eruption of Santorini, Greece (1613 bc), the inhabitants of the island were certainly aware of the impending eruption, since they had sufficient time to evacuate and to remove valuables from their homes (Friedrich, 2013). During the 79 ad eruption of Vesuvius, many inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum managed to escape despite the bodies discovered in Pompeii (Renfrew, 1979). Societies started developing methods to reinforce their properties and infrastructure to withstand natural hazards and studied the natural phenomena that led to catastrophe. This and its modern equivalent led to the development of the engineering paradigm. In China, historical and archaeological records suggest that walls to protect from flooding date as far back as the 21st century bc (Qingzhou, 1989). Furthermore, even in the recovery and reconstruction phases, planners started considering existing hazards and adapted accordingly. This is evident during the reconstruction of the city of Lisbon following the earthquake and associated tsunami and fire of 1755 ad. General Manuel da Maia, the royal engineer-in-chief, planned the new city of Lisbon based on knowledge acquired in the aftermath of the earthquake including building lower buildings, eliminating arches and arcades, using masonry and framed construction techniques and plotting the streets leaving more space for movement and, eventually, evacuation (Mullin, 1992). However, in the second half of the 20th century, the direction of disaster risk reduction changed with substantial emphasis being given to changes of human behavior that could contribute to a reduction of the negative consequences (the so called behavioral paradigm) of hazards. An awareness of the vulnerability of communities and its underlying factors led, during the last 40 years, to the development paradigm. The development paradigm was followed by the acceptance that catastrophes are the result of complex interactions between natural and human systems and have to be managed in a sustainable way (complexity paradigm) (Smith, 2013). Given the wide range of natural hazards that may impact at-risk communities, and the varying speeds of onset and notice associated with each type, contemporary risk assessment and management of natural hazards since the turn of the millennium is implemented within a broader risk governance framework.

The Risk Governance Approach

Risk governance includes “the totality of actors, rules, conventions, processes and mechanisms, concerned with how relevant risk information is collected, analysed and communicated and management decisions are taken” (Renn & Graham, 2005, p. 80). The importance of risk governance is clear in situations where no single authority is responsible for decision-making. The task of risk governance is to bring together governmental and private actors, while taking account of institutional and political culture and different risk perceptions. Its main challenge is to minimize risk while maximizing the benefits for the society (IRGC, 2012). However, while risk governance appears to be the natural evolution of classical risk management, critics often question the legitimacy of the decisions taken following a participatory process (Link & Stötter, 2015). In more detail, Walker, Whittle, Medd, and Watson, (2010) suggest that the involvement of the private sector in decision making may lead to decisions favoring corporate interests and the interests of engineering consultancies. Moreover, as far as the participation of the public is concerned, existing power relations within the society may control decision making.

The evolution of risk management to a risk governance approach may be beneficial for the management of LNN events that often challenge risk management mechanisms and require careful consideration. In the case of “surprise” events such as earthquakes, flash floods, snow avalanches, debris flows, and tsunamis, emphasis should be given to raising public awareness through education and participation, land use planning as well as the further development of early warning systems. The involvement of all relevant stakeholders, the participation of the public in decision-making and successful risk communication strategies may increase the resilience of at risk communities and significantly reduce disaster risk. Moreover, according to Aven (2011), the ability of decision-makers to respond adequately to LNN events relies on their flexibility as far as resource allocation is concerned, coupled with the resilience and redundancy of organizational systems. Finally, in places where political and societal will exists and adequate resources are available, the identification of vulnerable groups enables the overall reduction of vulnerability well in advance, reducing in this way the negative consequences of LNN events.

Until recently, the approach to decision-making regarding the management of natural hazards followed, and still follows in many parts of the world, a top-down approach and is the responsibility of the public administration and the scientific community. However, ongoing research, lessons learned from past disasters, and changes in the socio-political context have shifted disaster management practice towards the direction of a risk governance framework that includes all relevant stakeholders. Multi-layered and polycentric institutions, participation and collaboration of all actors, self-organization, and networking, as well as innovation are substantial elements of adaptive governance that may increase resilience to natural hazards (Djalante, Holley, & Thomalla, 2011; Lebel et al., 2006).

Global initiatives such as the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015 and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction 2015–2030 emphasize the importance of strengthening the components of risk governance for disaster risk reduction. The Hyogo Framework for Action points out the necessity for learning and educating societies to reduce disaster risk. The third priority of the framework clearly states that there is a need “to use knowledge, innovation, and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels” (UN, 2007, p. 18). The Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction 2015–2030 built on this priority by pointing out that a prerequisite for disaster risk reduction risk-informed decision-making is the use of science-based information combined with traditional knowledge (UN, 2015). The Sendai Framework’s main goal is to “prevent new and reduce existing risk.” However, the Sendai Framework, in contrast to the Hyogo framework, takes a step further from risk reduction towards building resilience through strengthening risk governance and enhancing preparedness. One of the targets of the Sendai Framework is to “increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to people by 2030” in an effort to strengthen disaster risk governance. Additionally, a further target is to “substantially enhance international cooperation with developing counties through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this framework by 2030.” It is clear that the Sendai Framework emphasizes the importance of strengthening risk governance (Priority 2) and its components. However, although negotiated and created by governments, NGOs, scientists and other international agencies, it is a non-binding and voluntary agreement (Peters, Langston, Tanner, & Bahadur, 2016).

White, Kates, and Burton (2001) in an attempt to explain the increasing losses from natural hazards at the end of the 20th century, contend that a lack of knowledge in some areas, inadequate use of existing knowledge, not using knowledge in a timely manner and finally, vulnerability increase, have countered risk minimizing efforts and are responsible for this paradox. Moreover, natural hazard occurrence, losses and fatalities disproportionally affect the Global South. By Global South we consider those countries that lie below the so-called “Brandt line,” which was introduced in the 1980s, and it divided the world into developed and less developed countries (Royal Geographic Society, undated). However, this division is rather simplistic. According to Wolvers, Tappe, Salverda, and Schwarz (2015), the countries of the Global North are the countries with stable economies, whereas countries of the Global South are predominantly, foreign aid receivers. Nevertheless, there are countries such as China or Argentina that do not fit within either of these two groups. Hylland Eriksen (2015) on the other hand, suggest that elements of being within the Global South and Global North may exist within a single country concurrently highlighting this view with examples from Albania, India, Russia and the United States of America. By looking at mortality patterns for all natural hazards by income group, it is observed that poorer countries suffer the most. In other words, the poorer the country the higher the mortality caused by natural hazards (CRED & UNISDR, 2016). On the other hand, although the absolute costs of natural hazards for the countries of the Global South may be smaller than for those of the Global North, losses as a proportion of the GDP are clearly higher. For example, absolute economic losses due to floods in Southeast Asia are lower than for OECD countries. However, economic losses as a proportion of the GDP in Southeast Asia are 15 times greater (Bahadur & Simonet, 2015). Despite disproportional losses and consequences, the need to strengthen risk governance in order to enhance resilience to natural hazards is evident in all countries of the Global South and Global North.

Potential Risk Governance Challenges Related to LNN Events

Research often focuses on “black swans,” meaning events that (a) are rare and have extreme impact or (b) based on present knowledge, are unexpected (Aven, 2013). However, LNN events are not necessarily “black swans” since they occur without warning but do not always have extreme impacts (e.g., local debris flows). For this reason, they require different sets of tools for their management. Moreover, LNN events are not necessarily unforeseen. The occurrence of earthquakes in earthquake prone areas is definitely expected. However, it is the exact timing of the events that is unknown and the lack of warning well in advance that makes their management exceptionally challenging.

Hazards that are difficult to predict or that occur after an LNN warning are considered uncontrollable and often result in societal fatalism and inactivity (McClure, Walkey, & Allen, 1999). The challenge for policy makers is to convince people that although the occurrence of hazard events maybe beyond their control, there are actions that can be taken to reduce their consequences (e.g., evacuation, adaptation measures, etc.) (Eiser et al., 2012). The following actions should be implemented well in advance, during the preparedness phase, but they are relevant for the entire risk cycle (Figure 1) and include:

  • Strengthening of knowledge transfer, public awareness and training;

  • Encouragement of multi-stakeholder participation and establishment of people-centered early warning systems. Stakeholders may be involved in all phases of the risk cycle through public or expert hearings, committees, Delphi exercises, focus groups, mediation, and round tables (Renn, 2015);

  • Activities for the reduction of physical and social vulnerability including reducing the underlying factors that shape risk such as poverty, inequality, building and infrastructure reinforcement; and

  • Strengthening of the institutional setting including land use planning, building codes, development of risk transfer mechanisms to support the affected population in the aftermath of LNN events.

Risk Governance of Limited-Notice or No-Notice Natural HazardsClick to view larger

Figure 1. Issues in risk governance concerning the management of LNN events.

However, there are a number of challenges that make the implementation of these types of activities difficult, and these are summarized in Figure 2.

Risk Governance of Limited-Notice or No-Notice Natural HazardsClick to view larger

Figure 2. The main priorities of risk governance and the associated challenges.

Access to hazard information postulates transparency and free access to information. However, this is not always the case. For example, in China, where one sixth of the human population lives, access to knowledge and information is limited or entirely regulated (unavailable) (Mol, He, & Zhang, 2011). Even if access to hazard and risk information is possible, often the quality of the available information is not satisfactory (e.g., short historical records, unreliable sources of data, incomplete databases). Public education frequently represents a one-way flow of information, whereas the public could also contribute with local knowledge gained through experience. Moreover, the transfer of information to the public does not necessarily imply education. A society that is educated regarding preparedness and response to natural hazards should be able to combine access to information with relevant actions (Cole & Murphy, 2014).

The socio-economic context often challenges risk governance mechanisms. Although urbanization may be synonymous with opportunity or even prosperity for many people, rapid urbanization in many places results in poor land use planning and environmental management. For instance, cities like Curitiba and Porto Alegre in Brazil grew 16-fold and 7-fold, respectively, since the 1950s (UNISDR, 2010). However, while these two cities have adopted innovative environmental policies and policies for citizen participation, they are the exception rather than the rule when compared to other rapidly growing cities around the world. Extreme poverty, extreme climate events, and occupation of hazardous zones by poor people are what characterizes many of these rapidly grown cities. The ten most populous cities in the world are at risk from a number of disasters, mainly earthquakes, storms, and flood (UNISDR, 2010). LNN hazards that occur in urban contexts raise a number of concerns. Earthquakes that affect a city with buildings of poor quality are likely to lead to a high number of deaths (Figure 3). Likewise, in many cities in developing countries the poorest members of the population reside on hill slopes with poor drainage and no protection and are especially vulnerable to landslides. In many countries, the location of specific residential districts is very much connected with income. Poor people are often forced to live in dangerous areas (e.g., favelas or slums on hill slopes). Although relocation seems to be the obvious solution, it does not always work since safe areas are often unavailable, are isolated, or lack access to basic infrastructure that residents desire. The key to successful relocation may be community participation (Twigg, 2015). It is clear that the combination of rapid growth combined with poor construction, the absence of early warning systems and inadequate risk governance frequently leads to significant loss of life and assets (UNISDR, 2010). In an effort to enhance risk governance in urban environments, the UNISDR introduced the 2010–2015 World Disaster Reduction Campaign, “Making Cities Resilient: My City Is Getting Ready!” (Cole & Murphy, 2014). Additionally, Forman and Wu (2016) in search for suitable areas for the growing population suggest that, in future, the focus should be on the regions rather than the cities, encouraging satellite city growth (e.g., Barcelona) and development in suburban areas and in towns with adjacent farmland. Nevertheless, efforts for strengthening the resilience of small and medium-sizes cities should also be enhanced. Small cities may feel the impact of natural hazards as well as efforts to reduce risks more directly (Birkmann, Welle, Solecki, Lwasa, & Garschagen, 2016).

Risk Governance of Limited-Notice or No-Notice Natural HazardsClick to view larger

Figure 3. Low quality building in the Center of Naples, Italy

(copyright: Maria Papathoma-Köhle).

The vulnerability of urban centers may be explained in part through the concentration of people and assets in small areas. However, the opposite situation may also lead to high vulnerability. Remoteness, low population density, and limited access or communication opportunities may be an obstacle to successful disaster risk reduction strategies. The example of Northern Ontario, Canada highlights the challenges of remoteness. Although Northern Ontario comprises 90% of the province’s area, it is home to only 6% of the total population resulting in a very low population density (1 person/km2). Lack of education programs and difficulties in communication (no broadband internet connection, limited TV and radio programs) add to remoteness and wilderness and pose a major challenge for risk communication and management (Cole & Murphy, 2014). By contrast, in the Global South, Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) of the Pacific are noted as having a complex pattern of vulnerability and resilience related to the same range of factors and others including small populations, limited resources and dependence on international trade (Meheux, Dominey-Howes, & Lloyd, 2007; Mercer, Dominey-Howes, Kelman, & Lloyd, 2007). Mercer et al. (2007) recognize the special characteristics of SIDS and their vulnerabilities to natural hazards, but they also point out the importance of the incorporation of indigenous knowledge in disaster risk reduction. It is clear that the incorporation of local knowledge would motivate the communities to be engaged and participate in disaster risk reduction programs (Gero, Meheux, & Dominey-Howes, 2011). However, local knowledge should always be validated and combined with culturally compatible western disaster risk reduction strategies (Mercer et al., 2007). Good practice includes examples from Samoa and Fiji that demonstrate activities including education and community awareness programs, training, and development of community disaster plans. (Gero et al., 2011).

However, whatever the context, it is often the weaknesses of the institutional setting—including political instability, inequality, lack of respect for human rights and democracy, corruption, and conflict—that poses a significant challenge to the risk governance of LNN events. Conflict increases vulnerability to natural hazards and undermines risk governance efforts since it leads to environmental degradation, collapse of public services, failure of infrastructure, overexploitation of resources, and human displacement (Twigg, 2015). In Haiti, the response and recovery phases after the earthquake of 2010 were negatively influenced by the political instability of the country (van der Vink, 2007). Corruption, on the other hand, undermines efforts for participation, land use planning, and adequate use of building codes. This was demonstrated in the aftermath of the earthquake in August 1999, which affected the Marmara region in Turkey. During the specific event, building blocks collapsed due to failure to comply with the building codes as a result of pressure for more housing (Escaleras, Anbarci, & Register, 2006; Lewis, 2011).

Finally, the occurrence of multi-hazards puts risk governance under significant pressure. Natural processes may trigger other natural or technological hazards, making the risk analysis and management of such events particularly challenging. Recent events, such as the 2011 Japan earthquake and associated tsunami leading to a nuclear power accident, clearly show the complexity of multi-hazard events. Risk governance for multi-hazards is challenged by the difficulty in assessing multi-risk due to the different hazard characteristics and impact on the elements at risk, lack of data for all hazards involved in the analysis, and lack of knowledge of interactions between the different processes.

All the above-mentioned challenges may be observed in the development and implementation of early warning systems. Early warning systems (EWSs) as an essential instrument of risk governance may save lives. However, there are many obstacles in their development and implementation that have to be overcome. EWSs incorporate four elements: (a) risk knowledge, (b) dissemination and communication, (c) monitoring and warning service, and (d) response capability (UNEP, 2012). The challenges associated with their use include: inadequate data generating high uncertainty in the assessment of risk, expensive technology and machinery for monitoring of events and natural processes, and inadequate false alarm rate leading to high costs and loss of trust by the public. Additionally, the focus often remains on the hazard and its mitigation and ignores or downplays vulnerabilities and underlying risk factors. A lack of empowerment plans for those at risk, one-way knowledge transfer ignoring local knowledge and practices, and finally, weak public support, are also some of the challenges associated with EWSs (Basher, 2006). It is of paramount importance that EWSs are “people centered” and based on good risk communication and participation, which depends on the socio-political context (transparency, access to information, etc.) (Basher, 2006).

Risk Governance Issues for Specific Hazard Types

Risk Governance for Mountain Hazards

Torrential hazards, landslides, and snow avalanches are natural processes that comprise mountain hazards. Their management is challenging due to significant socioeconomic changes in mountain areas and the sensitivity of these processes to climate change.

Torrential Hazards

Torrential hazards are processes that are the outcome of torrential rain in mountain areas and may be expressed as dynamic flooding with sediment transport and debris flow (Fuchs, Röthlisberger Thaler, Zischg, Keiler, 2017). These types of hazards offer limited or no warning time to the community to respond effectively, often resulting in significant losses and disruption. Debris flows, for example, cause significant deaths, especially in countries characterized by intense tectonic activity and high precipitation combined with inefficient building regulations such as Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Nepal (Santi, Hewitt, Van Dine, & Barillas Cruz, 2011) but also in the European alps (Rheinberger, Romang, & Bründl, 2013). A recent survey revealed that between 1950 and 2011 debris flows were responsible for 213 events in 38 countries that resulted in more than 77,000 fatalities (Dowling & Santi, 2014). The severity and frequency of such events means that immediate action to improve the response of decision makers and the public is required. Since warning times are relatively short, risk governance efforts have to concentrate on strengthening of the participation of relevant stakeholders and the public, improving public education and awareness, enhancing the institutional context as far as land use planning and local adaptation measures are concerned, and developing new or improving existing EWSs.

Mountain areas are characterized by sensitivity to climate change, remoteness, limited communication networks, and challenges concerning data collection. Additionally, torrential hazards are small and local events that rarely attract international attention, whereas local communities suffer mainly from the cumulative consequences of these hazards. To deal with the challenges that mountain communities face, stronger risk governance is necessary. Participation of all relevant stakeholders and shared responsibility for mitigation and response including monitoring and post-event analysis are essential issues for stronger risk governance (Tullos, Byron, Galloway, Obeysekera, Prakash, & Sun, 2016). In Austria for example, in an effort to assess and then improve participation in risk governance concerning torrential hazards, a local community was assessed in terms of income, education, age, gender, and other socio-economic indicators and, on this basis, activities for the improvement of participation were implemented including workshops and exhibitions with a focus on historic events (Fleischhauer et al., 2012). A lack of participation of all the relevant stakeholders in local plans in combination with lack of EWSs usually lead to large numbers of victims. In Taiwan, for instance, although local plans are required and available for all communities, these are made without their participation. The existing top-down approach concentrates responsibilities with the authorities and the mayor, ignoring the public (Luo, Shaw, Lin, & Joerin, 2014). Moreover, EWSs in Taiwan are not widely available not only because they are expensive, but also because areas subject to debris flow are not identified unless they have a record of past events. However, even the existence of an EWS cannot guarantee adequate warning and timely evacuation if the EWS is not people-centered. Typhoon Morakot and the associated debris flow in Taiwan in 2009 revealed the weaknesses of the local risk governance with respect to debris flow. Only 13.8% of households received a warning. From the remaining households, at least 73% had no disaster education or relevant past experience. The debris flows and flooding that occurred led to 699 deaths and 1,766 damaged houses (Luo et al., 2014). Despite the negative consequences of this event, it was evident that people with disaster education (hazard relevant knowledge, participation in disaster drills, formal disaster education at school) responded better to the occurrence of debris flow (Luo et al., 2014). Similarly, in 2014 in Japan, a localized short duration and high intensity precipitation event triggered 107 debris flows and 59 shallow landslides in the northern part of Hiroshima. The event resulted in 74 deaths and extensive damage to the built environment (Wang, Wu, Yang, Tanida, & Kamei, 2015) despite the use of an EWS.

Although in some places EWSs for debris flows are used widely, they do not provide sufficient time for evacuation due to the short time span between initiation and impact (Badoux, Graf, Rhyner, Kuntner, & McArdell, 2009). One of the first debris flow EWS was developed by the USGS and operated in California as an experimental EWS for debris flows and landslides for recently burnt areas. The ultimate goal was to develop this as a national warning system (NOAA-USGS, 2005). The EWS is based on precipitation thresholds that can forecast the occurrence of debris flow and then issue the appropriate level of warning (NOAA-USGS, 2005). In Switzerland, a real-time debris flow early warning and information system (IFKIS-Hydro) is used as support to decision-making (Romang et al., 2011). IFKIS-Hydro makes use of additional local information that is submitted to a web-based information platform by human observers, supporting participation and making the best use of local knowledge. Although IFKIS-Hydro does not include any behavioral or social science to enhance communication between actors, it certainly prepares the way for the connection of warning and response (Romang et al., 2011).


Landslides are defined as mass movements of soil, rock or debris due to gravitational forces (Crozier, 1999). The time between the initiation of a landslide and the impact on the built environment may vary depending on the distance between the initiation point and the settlement, the geomorphology of the area, the material, and its volume, which will influence the speed of the landslide movement. The available time that emergency managers have to initiate an evacuation, however, depends mainly on the existence of a monitoring system and the triggering mechanism. Landslides that are triggered by heavy precipitation may be expected by monitoring specific rainfall thresholds, whereas landslides initiated by earthquakes may occur unexpectedly. However, survivors of the landslide in Oso (Washington) in 2014 reported that, although there was no warning, they still had some time to gather together and alert other household members due to the extraordinary noise and the long distance between initiation and impact location (Wartman et al., 2016). On the other hand, the latest debris flows in Sichuan (China) occurred very early in the morning resulting in a high death toll since the people did not have the time to evacuate (BBC, 2017).

In the absence of sufficient warning, risk governance efforts focus on public education, participation, and the further development of EWS by making use of local knowledge in places where scientific knowledge and monitoring may be scarce. Due to the localized nature of the landslides only a small segment of the community has experienced one. Even in landslide prone areas, the majority of the inhabitants are not familiar with the process, its impact and the appropriate response (Baum & Godt, 2010). However, the existing experience of some inhabitants and local knowledge may be used in the local plans of communities. In the district of Nilgiri, India, for example, a community based disaster management program was developed in a landslide prone area (Jaiswal & van Westen, 2013). The evaluation of the risk perception of the local community showed that landslide experience increased the risk perception and willingness of the inhabitants to invest time and money in reducing landslide risk. Participatory mapping was conducted, and people used local knowledge to design landslide hazard maps. In this way, people with experience transferred their knowledge to people who had never experienced a landslide. Further, emergency maps showing alternative evacuation routes and shelters were also designed by community members, and solutions were developed. In the last step, mock drills were organized and implemented (Jaiswal & van Westen, 2013). The community-based disaster management program was integrated in an experimental landslide EWS that was based on empirical precipitation thresholds. However, its implementation required resources (trained personnel, scientific equipment, issuing of rainfall forecasts, updating of hazard and risk maps) that are not available (Jaiswal & van Westen, 2013). It is essential, therefore, for the successful implementation of landslide EWSs, that the nature of the elements at risk have to justify cost-effectiveness and the community involved has to be willing to participate (Baum & Godt, 2010). Additionally, the uncertainties of the EWS have to be reduced as much as possible, and its reliability has to be maintained by minimizing the number of false alarms (Jaiswal & van Westen, 2013). In countries of the Global South, the use of landslide EWSs is rather limited, although in some cases (e.g., Nepal), landslides are the first cause of death by any natural hazard (Lumbroso, Brown, & Ranger, 2016). While landslides in Nepal claimed 1,300 lives in the last decade and destroyed 10,000 buildings, there is no EWS in place and no plan for landslide risk mitigation, since there is no government agency responsible for natural hazard mitigation (IRIN, 2013). In the Global North, on the other hand, EWSs for landslide hazards are often successfully operated. In 2012 in Preonzo (Swiss alps), the EWS installed since 2010 was activated, the industrial area was successfully evacuated, and the potentially affected road network was closed only a few days before a catastrophic slope failure (Loew, Gschwind, Gischig, Keller-Signer, & Valenti, 2016). EWSs for landslides are installed and operate in many other places in the world, including, Italy (Intrieri, Gigli, Mugnai, Fanti, & Casagli, 2012), in China (Ju, Huang, Huang, He, & Li, 2015) and Brazil (Calvello, Neiva d’Orsi, Piciullo, Paes, Magalhaes, & Alvarenga Lacerda, 2015). However, current EWSs have many limitations related to the chosen thresholds and the observed parameter, precursors that are often ignored (Stähli et al., 2015).

Snow Avalanches

Snow avalanches are fast moving masses of snow that may contain debris, rocks, soil, wood, etc., and may cause tremendous damage to buildings, infrastructure, and individuals in mountain areas within a few minutes (Bründl, Bartelt, Schweizer, Keiler, & Glade, 2010). The initiation of an avalanche depends on the topography, the weather conditions, and snowpack factors (e.g., water content) (McClung & Schaerer, 1993). Snow avalanches have frequently claimed lives and destroyed buildings and infrastructure. According to the EM-DAT Database, since 1900, avalanches have killed 760 people in 15 events worldwide, but the actual number of deaths is actually higher, since events that led to less than 10 deaths are not recorded. It is noteworthy that, according to Höller (2007), in Austria alone, snow avalanches have claimed 1600 lives since 1950, an average of 30 casualties per year.

Risk mitigation measures for mountain hazards include structural measures intended to either prevent the release of the process or to protect and shield structures. An alternative structural measure is the development of protection forests for residential mountain areas. Last but not least, since the physical vulnerability of buildings to snow avalanches, landslides, and debris flows depends on the building material, geometry, mechanical properties, and the stability of its foundations (Bertrand, Naaim, & Brun, 2010; Papathoma-Köhle, 2016), local adaptation measures are often used to reduce the physical vulnerability and consequently the consequences of the impact (Holub & Fuchs, 2009). As far as non-structural measures for snow avalanches are concerned, at least for the European Alps, avalanche forecasting, road closures, and evacuations of settlements are implemented when the avalanche hazard is high. However, these measures are also costly since they interfere with the tourism industry (Rheinberger, 2013).

Non-structural measures (for mountain hazards in general) include mainly land use planning. Countries like Austria and Switzerland have produced and released hazard zones that are associated with building restrictions. In Austria, hazard zones are not legally binding and, although they are available, often buildings are still located within the red zones. Keiler (2004), for example, claims that in Galtür, where a snow avalanche in 1999 resulted in the death of 38 people, there are 18 residents out of 774 (more than 2%) still located within the red zone. Hazard zones in Austria, however, manage to enhance risk communication at the local level by providing the hazard zones for public review (BMLFUW, 2007). In Canada, hazard zoning has been applied the last 30 years, and it is based on the 100 to 300 years return period of snow avalanche events. Avalanche bulletins are provided in most of the regions at risk in the country. Although research focuses on forecasting, there are many new education and information initiatives for communities prone to snow avalanches (Stethem, Jamieson, Schaerer, Liverman, Germain, & Walker, 2003). Last but not least, snow avalanche events in the Global South are also common. However, they have been insufficiently investigated until now. Snow avalanches are common in the Andes, frequently resulting in destruction of buildings and mines (Valero, Wever, Bühler, Stoffel, Margreth, Bartelt, 2016). Moreover, snow avalanches are often documented in the Himalayas, affecting countries such as Pakistan, India and Afghanistan (Podolskiy, Sato, & Komori, 2009), but also in Africa (Grab & Linde 2014). However, research has been limited in regards to the documentation of historic events and hazard identification and simulation (Casteller et al., 2008) and modelling (Valero et al., 2016).

According to Link and Stötter (2015), risk management practices in mountain areas (particularly in the European Alps) have not yet been transformed in a risk governance framework. However, Link and Stötter (2015) claim that the roles of risk communication, participation, and stakeholder integration in mountain areas have been significantly strengthened. Nevertheless, although the mountain risk governance concept is suitable for application, the approaches have to be context specific considering regional risk cultures and the institutional context. In general, future efforts have to focus on the institutionalization of stakeholder participation, the development of innovative insurance schemes (Holub & Fuchs, 2009), the enhancement of public awareness and acceptance (Cardona, Suarez, & Perez, 2017; Holub & Fuchs, 2009), the safeguarding of democratic legitimacy of decision-making (Link & Stötter, 2015), and the integration of disaster risk reduction in sustainable development plans (Cardona et al., 2017).

Good Practice for Mountain Hazards

Countries in the Global South are often disproportionately affected by natural hazards. However, they do demonstrate good practices in risk governance and disaster risk reduction. The city of Manizales in Colombia is such an example. The city is located in the Colombian Andes at an altitude of 2,150 m, and it is home to more than 380,000 people. Since the 1980s, the city has involved several stakeholders, including local and regional authorities, the private sector, research institutions, and the community in a number of DRR actions such as risk mapping and hazard zoning, development and implementation of building codes, relocation of buildings to safer areas, public education programs, and institutional coordination improvement (Suarez, 2011). Manizales has been regularly affected by a range of natural hazards including earthquakes and landslides. Regarding landslides, some erosion control and stabilization work was necessary to support prevention and regulation in urban planning. Local land use planning was improved by including areas prone to landslides. The local community actively participated in preparedness activities. The “Guardianes de Ladera” (slope guardians) program includes the education and training of female household heads who live in hazardous areas. These women are responsible for raising awareness, reporting of bad management, maintenance and control of stabilization works, and also for informing the public about relocation programs (Hardoy, Pandiella, & Velasquez Barrero, 2011). The relocation process was not forced, but it included a voluntary demolition program and relocation to a chosen safe area. Additionally, an EWS for landslides was developed based on observation of rainfall levels in real time. Last, but not least, a multi-hazard insurance program was introduced which is designed to protect low-income households (Suarez, 2011). Household owners who decide to take measures to reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards receive tax reductions (Hardoy et al., 2011).

In the Global North, countries like Switzerland use experience and available resources and technology to manage LNN events. Following the floods of 2005, Switzerland established in 2008 the Joint Information Platform for Natural Hazards (GIN) as part of the project OWARNA (Optimization of Warning and Alerting in Event of Natural Hazards). GIN addresses experts, providing them with a web-browser based platform with real-time information for decision-making support. It includes data on 890 parameters from 700 measuring stations for different hazard types that can be visualized in map form or tables (Petzold, Hess, Schmid, Arpagaus, & Steiner, 2012). The GIN Platform is also supporting authorities, experts, and decision makers in dealing with multi hazard. There are three governmental organizations responsible for issuing warnings, each one for a different hazard type (floods, storm, and avalanches). Consequently, decision makers would have to use three different systems to deal with multi-hazard. GIN being a common platform for all hazards minimizes efforts in this respect. However, GIN contains information that is difficult to be interpreted by non-experts and for this reason it is not publicly available (Heil et al., 2014). The Swiss Confederation National Platform for Natural Hazards provides online information material for different hazard types, in different languages prepared for a variety of audiences including the public, homeowners, teachers, children authorities, and private companies.

Risk Governance for Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Earthquakes are less likely to provide a warning, and most of the efforts to mitigate negative consequences concentrate on reducing vulnerabilities in terms of retrofitting buildings and infrastructure and introducing adequate building codes, as well as developing education and training programs for the public. Tsunamis, on the other hand, can sometimes be “forecast” through EWSs, or by recognizing warning signs such as the precedent earthquake or the withdrawal of the seawater. For near-field tsunamis, the effectiveness of an EWS is limited. However, EWSs for tsunamis in the Pacific seem to be working effectively in terms of detection, monitoring, and early warning capability, while significant progress has been made over the last decade in relation to such capability in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the North Eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and in Australia. For both types of hazards, participation of multi-stakeholders, transfer of knowledge, and public awareness and education remain substantial tools for disaster risk reduction.


Earthquakes are the result of stress accumulation and release in the vicinity of geological and tectonic weaknesses (e.g., faults) in the earth’s crust (Hays, 2004). The release of energy is radiated in the form of seismic waves, causing destruction and loss of life in large areas around the epicenter (Smith, 2013). Earthquakes happen suddenly allowing almost no time for evacuation of buildings.

Despite some efforts to develop EWSs for earthquakes, these are still in their infancy. Strong earthquakes claiming a large number of lives often initiate debate of early warning and associated funding. Following the earthquake of Kobe in 1995, for example, Japan invested significant funds for the development of EWSs for earthquakes (Allen, 2013). Similarly, the Italian government, following the earthquake of L’Aquila in 2009, appointed an international commission on earthquake forecasting (ICEF), which had as its first task the review of existing EWSs or efforts in countries including China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States, and the compilation of guidelines for earthquake forecasting and the roadmap for implementation (Jordan et al., 2011).

In Japan, as a result of funding following the earthquake in Kobe, the Japanese Meteorological Agency developed and provided some organizations, such as railway and construction companies or some local governments, with an earthquake EWS. Similar efforts for the development and use of EWS have been also made by the private sector (e.g., the JR Bullet train and Tokyo Gas) (Government of Japan, 2006). The newly developed Japanese EWS was tested during the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, giving a 15-second warning to the people of the Sendai (Allen, 2013). Existing efforts are based on the fact that the waves that are responsible for the damage (S waves) travel more slowly than the primary waves (P waves). By measuring the velocity difference of these two wave types, given that the epicenter of an earthquake is located more than 300 km from a major urban center and adequate technology is available (e.g., seismic stations), an earthquake can be predicted 25 to 30 seconds in advance (Government of Japan, 2006). Existing systems (e.g., ShakeAlert in the United States) do indeed offer a very short warning of a few seconds. Although this warning time is not sufficient for initiating an evacuation procedure, it may be important for saving lives. In these few seconds or minutes people may cover, turn off appliances, stop vehicles, trains, and operation of machines, move to safe locations, stop productions lines, and start preparing emergency responses (Burkett, Given, & Jones, 2014). Many lives were saved in Sihuan (China) in 2017, where an early warning system introduced after the 2008 earthquake alerted residents living 95 km away from the epicenter 40 seconds in advance, enabling in this way timely evacuation (Froberg, 2017). ShakeAlert, the EWS of California, was introduced in 2011 and was tested during a magnitude 4.2 earthquake, giving a 5-second warning (Allen, 2013). However, although, according to Allen (2013), everyone would profit from an earthquake EWS including people, businesses, and science, tight budgets and insufficient allocation of money are holding up the evolvement of EWSs for earthquakes. The solution to this problem is the development of partnerships between government agencies, science, businesses, and the community. Strauss and Allen (2016) also suggest that the benefits of EWSs for earthquakes clearly outweigh the costs. Apart from the United States and Japan, significant efforts in this respect have been made by China, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey, and Romania (Allen, 2013). Nevertheless, although no satisfactory EWS is available yet, remarkable efforts have been made to reduce the response time following an earthquake and to inform decision making. ShakeMap technology for example, has been developed by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) and has been used in different countries around the globe. It makes use of data from seismographs combined with local geology to develop ShakeMaps showing where the most serious damage may be expected and where emergency services may focus their efforts (USGS, 2003). ShakeMaps are available on the world-wide-web, and they are provided not only for the United States but also for many places in the world. ShakeMap technology has been used to provide ShakeMaps for selected global earthquakes (historic to recent ones), but also as a basis for earthquake scenarios (USGS, 2008). However, the development of EWSs requires available funding for further research. Unfortunately, as we write, the new U.S. President, Donald Trump, has announced major cuts to continued funding of vital early warning systems including the USGS Shake Map service (Reardon, Tollefson, Witze, & Ross, 2017). It is clear, therefore, that political ideologies and governmental changes may negatively affect the development and implementation of EWS.

While research on prediction and early warning is ongoing, efforts for risk reduction still concentrate on building design, land use planning and public education and awareness. Building codes, however, are often introduced in the aftermath of catastrophic earthquakes, and they do not offer a solution for buildings that were built before their introduction. For example, in Greece, although the seismic code was revised and modernized following the Aeghio earthquake in 1995, more than 60% of the buildings in the country do not comply with the seismic code since they were built before its enforcement (Pomonis, 2002).

People living in earthquake prone areas may learn how to respond to a seismic event. Public education and awareness programs exist in many earthquake-prone countries, although, they often focus on the time before or during the earthquake and not on the immediate aftermath. Such an example is the “Drop, Cover and Hold On” campaign of the Earthquake Country Alliance focusing on earthquake knowledge and drills (Bartolucci & Michele, 2016). In Italy, an effort has been made to enhance the existing “Io non Rischio” (I don’t risk) campaign with a decision flow chart guiding the behavior of survivors in the aftermath of an earthquake, to avoid negative consequences such as overcrowding of hospitals and creating additional injured persons (Bartolucci & Michele, 2016). It is clear that public education and awareness programs require participation of the public at all stages of disaster management and access to information. If the public does not participate, they do not have the opportunity to provide their own solutions for disaster-related issues, then the consequences may be dramatic during the response and the recovery phase (Pearce, 2003).

The consequences of earthquakes demonstrate the differences between the Global North and Global South concerning the risk governance landscape. Jones, Oven, and Wisner (2016) suggest that disaster risk reduction effectiveness depends on the participation of stakeholders, the sharing of power among them, the lack of commitment and political will of the government as well as the incentives or disincentives that affect governmental decisions. This is highlighted by an example in the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Jones et al (2016) reviewed the risk governance landscape of Nepal and neighboring Bihar district in India to explain the difference in the consequences in terms of number of victims and material loss in both areas following the 2015 earthquake. The two areas are comparable since they share similar socioeconomic characteristics and they are equally susceptible to earthquakes. However, the risk governance landscape, as far as the number of stakeholders involved in DRR process and strength of institutional and legislative setting are concerned, differs significantly (Jones et al., 2016). The results of this comparison clearly suggest that stronger institutional structures may support better earthquake risk reduction activities.

Risk Governance of Limited-Notice or No-Notice Natural HazardsClick to view larger

Figure 4. The aftermath of the September 2009 South Pacific Tsunami

(copyright: Dale Dominey-Howes).


Tsunamis are long sea waves that are most commonly generated by earthquakes, submarine landslides, or volcanic eruption (Alexander, 1993). As a secondary hazard following an earthquake or as a single hazard affecting a coastal segment, they may cause a vast number of victims and material losses in coastal areas (Figure 4). The cause of tsunamis as well as the location of the responsible earthquake or landslide plays a role in the time that the affected community has to evacuate, run to higher ground, or protect themselves. EWSs for tsunami exist and have been implemented successfully in the past. Far-field tsunamis, such as tsunamis generated in the Pacific Ocean affecting coastal areas in other continents may allow up to 24 hours for evacuation and initiation of emergency activities. On the other hand, near-field tsunamis (tsunamis initiated in the vicinity of the affected area), or tsunamis generated by submarine landslides, may happen suddenly and surprise local populations and authorities. Existing EWSs are not a panacea since they often give false alarms reducing their reliability, or they fail to communicate effectively the warning message to the public. Dominey-Howes and Goff (2010) showed that although Australia invested significant funding into the development and deployment of the Australian Tsunami Warning System (ATWS), the 2010 Chilean tsunami revealed that although the EWS was fully capable of predicting the tsunami, the community response was inadequate. Despite the widespread warning, people underestimated it and failed to take the necessary precautions (e.g., leave the beach and go to higher ground). This example highlights the need for improving community education. Papadopoulos and Fokaefs (2013) suggest that near-field tsunamis in the Mediterranean or north Atlantic may have a very short travel time (5–30 min), pointing out that an earthquake generating a tsunami in the Aegean Sea, like the one of 1956 (Dominey-Howes, 1996, 2002; Dominey-Howes et al., 2000), may allow only 12 minutes for evacuation. Nevertheless, a pilot project (NEARTOWARN) has been introduced in the Mediterranean for the early warning for near-field tsunamis and has been tested in Rhodes (Papadopoulos & Fokaefs, 2013). In 2006, Japan introduced a near-field tsunami EWS that was used during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The EWS broadcast a warning 1.5 minutes after the earthquake, and the first tsunami wave arrived 25 minutes after the earthquake. Although the height of the wave was underestimated, evacuation plans were well implemented with some exceptions (Kamigaichi, 2012). In the case of Natori city, the broadcasting of the warning experienced problems due to a power cut caused by the earthquake, highlighting the challenges of multi-hazard risk reduction (Sasaki, 2012). Following the earthquake and associated tsunami in 2011, NIED (National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention) developed an observation network of 154 stations to improve earthquake and tsunami warning. The observation stations are within an average distance of 30 km from each other and are equipped with an accelerometer and a water pressure gauge for earthquake and tsunami detection respectively (Okada, 2013). Additionally, JAMSTEC (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology) expanded DONET 1 (Dense Oceanfloor Network System for Earthquake and Tsunami), a project that started in 2006 to serve the area of the Nankai Trough by constructing DONET 2, which was not fully operational in 2011 (Kawaguchi, Kaneko, Nishida, & Komine, 2015).

It is quite clear that, apart from EWS, knowledge, public awareness, and education are the keys to tsunami risk reduction. A comparison between some tsunami-prone countries (such as Japan, Chile) showed that communities with previous experience in tsunamis and high awareness tend to have better preparedness and evacuation recognition than others. This was also clear from the different consequences experienced in the countries that were affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (Esteban, Tsimopoulou, Mikami, Yun, Supparsi, & Shibayama, 2013). Nevertheless, following the tsunami of 2004, affected countries like Indonesia accelerated their efforts for tsunami risk reduction. These efforts were directed not only toward the new tsunami EWS for the Indian Ocean but also toward strengthening risk governance and the institutional setting of the country including funds availability, changes in the disaster management legislation, and decentralization (Chang Seng, 2013).

Good Practice for Earthquake and Tsunami Risk Governance

Japan is a global pioneer in the risk management of earthquakes in the Global North. Using the lessons learned form the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, the national, regional, and local authorities estimated fatalities and damages to structures resulting from major earthquakes in different regions and the associated economic impact in the public and private sector. Based on these estimates, earthquake and tsunami measure promotion areas and special reinforcement areas were designated. In parallel, significant efforts for DRR education and multi-stakeholder involvement have been made. For example, the 5th of November has been designated as “Tsunami Preparedness Day” aiming at keeping the memory of tsunamis as well as the interest in preparedness activities alive. In 2014, 796,000 people participated in tsunamis drills all over the country (Cabinet Office Japan, 2015). In Figure 5, a sign indicating the evacuation route towards a shelter is shown. In an effort to involve the community as much as possible, in Shizuoka Prefecture, community members had to plan their own independently operated evacuation shelter. At Kaga city, the evacuation area was planned in an elementary school. Finally, in Nagano prefecture, “Citizen Mutual Aid Maps” were created to enable citizens to locate and help during disasters members of vulnerable groups such as elderly or disabled. However, the map is supported by high awareness of the importance of disaster management and efforts for strengthening the links between community members (volunteering, sense of responsibility, encouraging communication between residents) (Cabinet Office Japan, 2015).

Risk Governance of Limited-Notice or No-Notice Natural HazardsClick to view larger

Figure 5. Evacuation sign in Japan

(copyright: Maria Papathoma-Köhle).

In the Global South, a good practice example for tsunami risk governance is the development of an EWS in Sri Lanka following the tsunami of 2004. The Community Tsunami Early Warning Centre (CTEC) is a community-based initiative that started as an early warning center for tsunamis and is now focusing on multiple hazards. The tsunami of 2004 devastated the coastal village of Peraliya in Sri Lanka, claiming more than 2,000 lives. Peraliyia became the center of a community-based tsunami early warning system. The CTEC aims at supporting the disaster risk management efforts of the government (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, 2012). The EWS was “tested” during the 2007 tsunami. People were informed by loudspeaker and mobile speakers and were directed to evacuation places. It is clear that community participation and community knowledge play a central role in the EWS and, as an evaluation study revealed, 80% of the local population is aware of the system and has made use of it in the past (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, 2012).

Conclusions and Future Perspectives

As recent events have demonstrated, LNN events can cause significant losses and casualties within only seconds or minutes. These types of events pose challenges to risk governance since the response time is limited, and efforts must be concentrated in the preparedness phase. Public awareness and education programs are main priorities; however, these cannot be achieved without adequate information regarding the risks and participation of all the relevant stakeholders. Additionally, decision makers and public authorities have to deal with a number of challenges associated with institutional, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics of areas at risk. Limited financial resources, poverty, inequalities within the society, lack of democracy and transparency, conflict, and challenging geographic context as well as centralized institutions undermine efforts to deal with LNN hazards within a risk governance framework. Societies, governments, and experts should have as a priority the minimization of these underlying factors. These underlying factors are also partly the reason why natural hazards affect the countries of the Global North and the Global South disproportionally. Future risk governance efforts should concentrate on the improvement of participation of multi-stakeholders including the public, the availability of risk-related information, and the development of public awareness and education programs. Moreover, although the efforts for the risk governance focus mainly on the preparedness phase of the risk cycle, activities targeting the immediate aftermath of disasters and the recovery phase should not be disregarded. Innovative risk transfer mechanisms already developed before the occurrence of disaster may help affected people to return to normality faster. Participative relocation programs may also increase the resilience of communities. Last but not least, political and societal will are imperative for the reduction of risk and the good function of risk governance mechanisms in the case of LNN events and natural hazards in general.

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