Dennis John Parker
Humankind is becoming increasingly dependent on timely flood warnings. Dependence is being driven by an increasing frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events, a growing number of disruptive and damaging floods, and rising sea levels associated with climate change. At the same time, the population living in flood-risk areas and the value of urban and rural assets exposed to floods are growing rapidly. Flood warnings are an important means of adapting to growing flood risk and learning to live with it by avoiding damage, loss of life, and injury. Such warnings are increasingly being employed in combination with other flood-risk management measures, including large-scale mobile flood barriers and property-level protection measures.
Given that lives may well depend on effective flood warnings and appropriate warning responses, it is crucial that the warnings perform satisfactorily, particularly by being accurate, reliable, and timely. A sufficiently long warning lead time to allow precautions to be taken and property and people to be moved out of harm’s way is particularly important. However, flood warnings are heavily dependent on the other components of flood forecasting, warning, and response systems of which they are a central part. These other components—flood detection, flood forecasting, warning communication, and warning response—form a system that is characterized as a chain, each link of which depends on the other links for effective outcomes. Inherent weaknesses exist in chainlike processes and are often the basis of warning underperformance when it occurs.
A number of key issues confront those seeking to create and successfully operate flood warning systems, including (1) translating technical flood forecasts into warnings that are readily understandable by the public; (2) taking legal responsibility for warnings and their dissemination; (3) raising flood-risk awareness; (4) designing effective flood warning messages; (5) knowing how best and when to communicate warnings; and (6) addressing uncertainties surrounding flood warnings.
Flood warning science brings together a large body of research findings from a particularly wide range of disciplines ranging from hydrometeorological science to social psychology. In recent decades, major advances have been made in forecasting fluvial and coastal floods. Accurately forecasting pluvial events that cause surface-water floods is at the research frontier, with significant progress being made. Over the same time period, impressive advances in a variety of rapid, personalized communication means has transformed the process of flood warning dissemination. Much is now known about the factors that constrain and aid appropriate flood warning responses both at the individual and at organized, flood emergency response levels, and a range of innovations are being applied to improve response effectiveness. Although the uniqueness of each flood and the inherent unpredictability involved in flood events means that sometimes flood warnings may not perform as expected, flood warning science is helping to minimize these occurrences.
Populations that are rendered socially invisible by their relegation to realms that are excluded—either physically or experientially—from the rest of society tend to similarly be left out of community disaster planning, often with dire consequences. Older adults, persons with disabilities, linguistic minorities, and other socially marginalized groups face amplified risks that translate into disproportionately negative outcomes when disasters strike. Moreover, these disparities are often reproduced in the aftermath of disasters, further reinforcing preexisting inequities. Even well-intentioned approaches to disaster service delivery have historically homogenized and segregated distinct populations under the generic moniker of “special needs,” thereby undermining their own effectiveness at serving those in need.
The access and functional needs perspective has been promoted within the emergency management field as a practical and inclusive means of accommodating a range of functional capacities in disaster planning. This framework calls for operationalizing needs into specific mechanisms of functional support that can be applied at each stage of the disaster lifecycle. Additionally, experts have emphasized the need to engage advocacy groups, organizations that routinely serve socially marginalized populations, and persons with activity limitations themselves to identify support needs. Incorporating these diverse entities into the planning process can help to build stronger, more resilient communities.
Josh Greenberg and T. Joseph Scanlon
Media have always played an important role in times of emergency and disaster. Undersea cables, international news agencies, the press, radio and television, and, most recently, digital and mobile technologies—all have played myriad and complex roles in supporting emergency response and notification, and in helping constitute a shared experience that can be important to social mobilization and community formation. The geographical location of disasters and the identities of victims, the increasingly visual nature of disaster events, and the ubiquitous nature of media in our lives, all shape and influence which kinds of emergencies attract global media and public attention, and how we come to understand them.
Globalization has compressed time and space such that a whole range of disasters—from natural events (cyclones, earthquakes, and hurricanes) to industrial accidents and terrorist attacks—appear on our television and mobile screens with almost daily frequency. There is nothing inherent about these events that give them meaning—they occur in a real, material world; but for many of us, our experience of these events is shaped and determined in large part by our interactions with media industries, institutions, and technologies. Understanding the media’s construction of these events as disasters provides important insight into the nature of disaster mitigation, response and recovery.