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Article

Diversity in Audiences  

Julia Metag and Kira Klinger

Examining risk communication is important in determining how audiences perceive, understand, and ultimately respond to natural hazards and their causes as well as the (political) measures that are implemented to prevent them. The audience, however, should not be conceptualized as a uniform and homogeneous mass but, rather, as comprising distinct groups that differ in their perceptions of natural hazards, their attitudes toward risk, their knowledge and information behavior, as well as their behavior with regard to preparing for and acting during and after a natural hazard. Conceptualizing audiences in this way accounts for pluralization and fragmentation tendencies on a societal level. The diversity of audiences has led to segmentation analyses becoming a prominent approach in understanding audiences in social and behavioral sciences. An audience segment is identified by the shared characteristics of a specific group within a broader audience. From a risk communication perspective, acknowledging audience diversity and studying different audience segments allows for tailored risk communication regarding natural hazards. These segments can differ depending on which issue is concerned, and this can also change over time. When conducting audience segmentation analyses, researchers must choose between different types of segmentation analyses (e.g., a priori vs. post hoc analyses or psychographic vs. behavioral analyses), which kind of variables they select to base their segmentation on, which audience or population is under study, and which methodological (e.g., quantitative vs. qualitative methods) and analytical approach they apply. There are some audience segmentation studies directly dedicated to natural hazards which show that there are diverse audience groups differing in their awareness of the risks of natural hazards and their information behavior and needs. These studies reveal that examining diverse audiences based on segmentation can be beneficial in tailoring communication activities, engaging specific—particularly vulnerable—groups, and improving community participation. Regarding challenges, it remains questionable to what extent skeptical groups can be reached, even if they are identified through segmentation analysis, and whether separate segment-specific communication could come at the expense of building a social consensus. Nonetheless, target group–specific communication allows campaigners to foster dialogue regarding risks and natural hazards by enabling them to persuade many members of society to join the dialogue and use the segments’ preferred communication strategies in terms of channels, tone, and content.

Article

Managing Vulnerability During Cascading Disasters: Language Access Services  

Federico Marco Federici

Communication underpins all phases of disaster risk reduction: it is at the heart of risk mitigation, by increasing resilience and preparedness, and by interacting with affected communities in the response phase and throughout the reconstruction and recovery after a disaster. Communication does not alter the scope or severity of a disaster triggered by natural hazards, but the extent to which risk reduction strategies impact on affected regions depends greatly on existing differences inherent in the society of these regions. Ethnic minorities and multilingual language groups―which are not always one and the same―may become vulnerable groups when there has been little or no planning or no awareness of the impact of limited access to trustworthy information when the disaster strikes. Furthermore, large-scale disasters are likely to involve personnel from the humanitarian sector from both local and international offices. Communication in most large-scale events has progressively become multilingual; from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it is expected that large disasters see collaboration between intergovernmental, governmental, local, national, and international entities that operate in different ways in rescue and relief operations. Regardless of linguistic contexts, communication of reliable information in a trustworthy manner is complex to achieve in the aftermath of a disaster, which may instantaneously affect telecommunication infrastructures (overloading VOIP and GPS systems). From coordination to information, clear communication plays a role in any activity intending to reduce risks, damages, morbidity, and mortality. Achieving clear communication in crisis management is a feat in a monolingual context: people from different organizations and with different capacities in multi-agency operations have at least a common language, nonetheless, terminology varies from one organization to another, thus hampering successful communication. Achieving effective and clear communication with multilingual communities, while using one language (or lingua franca), such as English, Arabic, Spanish, or Hindi, depending on the region, is impossible without due consideration to language translation.

Article

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.

Article

Understanding the Risk Communication Puzzle for Natural Hazards and Disasters  

Emma E. H. Doyle and Julia S. Becker

The study of risk communication has been explored in several diverse contexts, from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including psychology, health, media studies, visualization studies, the public understanding of science, and social science. Such diversity creates a puzzle of recommendations to address the many challenges of communicating risk before, during, and after a natural hazard event and disasters. The history and evolution of risk communication across these diverse contexts is reviewed, followed by a discussion of risk communication particular to natural hazards and disasters. Example models of risk communication in the disaster and natural hazard context are outlined, followed by examples of studies into disaster risk communication from Aotearoa New Zealand, and key best practice principles for communicating risk in these contexts. Considerations are also provided on how science and risk communication can work together more effectively in future in the natural hazard and disaster space. Such considerations include the importance of scientists, risk managers, and officials communicating to meet a diversity of decision-makers’ needs and understanding the evolution of those needs in a crisis across time demands and forecast horizons. To acquire a better understanding of such needs, participatory approaches to risk assessment and communication present the greatest potential in developing risk communication that is useful, useable, and used. Through partnerships forged at the problem formulation stage, risk assessors and communicators can gain an understanding of the science that needs to be developed to meet decision-needs, while communities and decision-makers can develop a greater understanding of the limitations of the science and risk assessment, leading to stronger and more trusting relationships. It is critically important to evaluate these partnership programs due to the challenges that can arise (such as resourcing and trust), particularly given risk communication can often occur in an environment subject to power imbalances due to social structures and sociopolitical landscape. There is also often not enough attention paid to the evaluation of the risk communication products themselves, which is problematic because what we think is being communicated may unintentionally mislead due to formatting and display choices. By working in partnership with affected communities to develop decision-relevant communication products using evidence-based product design, work can be done toward communicating risk in the most effective, and ethical, way.

Article

Hydrodynamic Modeling of Urban Flood Flows and Disaster Risk Reduction  

Brett F. Sanders

Communities facing urban flood risk have access to powerful flood simulation software for use in disaster-risk-reduction (DRR) initiatives. However, recent research has shown that flood risk continues to escalate globally, despite an increase in the primary outcome of flood simulation: increased knowledge. Thus, a key issue with the utilization of urban flood models is not necessarily development of new knowledge about flooding, but rather the achievement of more socially robust and context-sensitive knowledge production capable of converting knowledge into action. There are early indications that this can be accomplished when an urban flood model is used as a tool to bring together local lay and scientific expertise around local priorities and perceptions, and to advance improved, target-oriented methods of flood risk communication. The success of urban flood models as a facilitating agent for knowledge coproduction will depend on whether they are trusted by both the scientific and local expert, and to this end, whether the model constitutes an accurate approximation of flood dynamics is a key issue. This is not a sufficient condition for knowledge coproduction, but it is a necessary one. For example, trust can easily be eroded at the local level by disagreements among scientists about what constitutes an accurate approximation. Motivated by the need for confidence in urban flood models, and the wide variety of models available to users, this article reviews progress in urban flood model development over three eras: (1) the era of theory, when the foundation of urban flood models was established using fluid mechanics principles and considerable attention focused on development of computational methods for solving the one- and two-dimensional equations governing flood flows; (2) the era of data, which took form in the 2000s, and has motivated a reexamination of urban flood model design in response to the transformation from a data-poor to a data-rich modeling environment; and (3) the era of disaster risk reduction, whereby modeling tools are put in the hands of communities facing flood risk and are used to codevelop flood risk knowledge and transform knowledge to action. The article aims to inform decision makers and policy makers regarding the match between model selection and decision points, to orient the engineering community to the varied decision-making and policy needs that arise in the context of DRR activities, to highlight the opportunities and pitfalls associated with alternative urban flood modeling techniques, and to frame areas for future research.

Article

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.

Article

Flood Warning Systems and Their Performance  

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.