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A Relational Approach to Risk Communication  

Jing Zhu and Raul P. Lejano

It is instructive to juxtapose two contrasting models of risk communication. The first views risk communication as a product that is packaged and transmitted, unmodified and intact, to a passive public. The second, a relational approach, views it as a process in which experts, the public, and agencies engage in open communication, regarding the public as an equal partner in risk communication. The second model has the benefit of taking advantage of the public’s local knowledge and ability to engage in risk communication themselves. Risk communication should be understood as more of a dynamic process, and less of a packaged object. An example of the relational model is found in Bangladesh’s Cyclone Preparedness Programme, which has incorporated the relational model in its disaster risk reduction training for community volunteers. Nevertheless, the two contrasting models, in practice, are never mutually exclusive, and both are needed for effective disaster risk prevention.


Fatalism, Causal Reasoning, and Natural Hazards  

John McClure

Fatalism about natural disasters hinders action to prepare for those disasters, and overcoming this fatalism is one key element to preparing people for these disasters. Research by Bostrom and colleagues shows that failure to act often reflects gaps and misconceptions in citizen’s mental models of disasters. Research by McClure and colleagues shows that fatalistic attitudes reflect people’s attributing damage to uncontrollable natural causes rather than controllable human actions, such as preparation. Research shows which precise features of risk communications lead people to see damage as preventable and to attribute damage to controllable human actions. Messages that enhance the accuracy of mental models of disasters by including human factors recognized by experts lead to increased preparedness. Effective messages also communicate that major damage in disasters is often distinctive and reflects controllable causes. These messages underpin causal judgments that reduce fatalism and enhance preparation. Many of these messages are not only beneficial but also newsworthy. Messages that are logically equivalent but are differently framed have varying effects on risk judgments and preparedness. The causes of harm in disasters are often contested, because they often imply human responsibility for the outcomes and entail significant cost.


Public Participation in Planning for Community Management of Natural Hazards  

Andrea Sarzynski and Paolo Cavaliere

Public participation in environmental management, and more specifically in hazard mitigation planning, has received much attention from scholars and practitioners. A shift in perspective now sees the public as a fundamental player in decision-making rather than simply as the final recipient of a policy decision. Including the public in hazard mitigation planning brings widespread benefits. First, communities gain awareness of the risks they live with, and thus, this is an opportunity to empower communities and improve their resilience. Second, supported by a collaborative participation process, emergency managers and planners can achieve the ultimate goal of strong mitigation plans. Although public participation is highly desired as an instrument to improve hazard mitigation planning, appropriate participation techniques are context dependent and some trade-offs exist in the process design (such as between representativeness and consensus building). Designing participation processes requires careful planning and an all-around consideration of the representativeness of stakeholders, timing, objectives, knowledge, and ultimately desired goals to achieve. Assessing participation also requires more consistent methods to facilitate policy learning from diverse experiences. New decision-support tools may be necessary to gain widespread participation from laypersons lacking technical knowledge of hazards and risks.