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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.


Readiness for Natural Hazards  

Douglas Paton

Humankind has always lived with natural hazards and their consequences. While the frequency and intensity of geological processes may have remained relatively stable, population growth and infrastructure development in areas susceptible to experiencing natural hazards has increased societal risk and the losses experienced from hazard activity. Furthermore, increases in weather-related (e.g., hurricanes, wildfires) hazards emanating from climate change will increase risk in some countries and result in others having to deal with natural hazard risk for the first time. Faced with growing and enduring risk, disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies will play increasingly important roles in facilitating societal sustainability. This article discusses how readiness or preparedness makes an important contribution to comprehensive DRR. Readiness is defined here in terms of those factors that facilitate people’s individual and collective capability to anticipate, cope with, adapt to, and recover from hazard consequences. This article first discusses the need to conceptualize readiness as comprising several functional categories (structural, survival/direct action, psychological, community/capacity building, livelihood and community-agency readiness). Next, the article discusses how the nature and extent of people’s readiness is a function of the interaction between the information available and the personal, family, community and societal factors used to interpret information and support readiness decision-making. The health belief model (HBM), protection motivation theory (PMT), person-relative-to-event (PrE) theory, theory of planned behavior (TPB), critical awareness (CA), protective action decision model (PADM), and community engagement theory (CET) are used to introduce variables that inform people’s readiness decision-making. A need to consider readiness as a developmental process is discussed and identifies how the variables introduced in the above theories play different roles at different stages in the development of comprehensive readiness. Because many societies must learn to coexist with several sources of hazard, an “all-hazards” approach is required to facilitate the capacity of societies and their members to be resilient in the face of the various hazard consequences they may have to contend with. This article discusses research into readiness for the consequences that arise from earthquake, volcanic, flood, hurricane, and tornado hazards. Furthermore, because hazards transcend national and cultural divides, a comprehensive conceptualization of readiness must accommodate a cross-cultural perspective. Issues in the cross-cultural testing of theory is discussed, as is the need for further work into the relationship between readiness and culture-specific beliefs and processes.


Natural Hazards Governance in Chile  

Vicente Sandoval, Benjamin Wisner, and Martin Voss

The governance of natural hazards in Chile involves how different actors participate in all stages of managing natural hazards and their impacts. This includes monitoring and early warning systems and response to the most significant hazardous events in the country: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydrological and meteorological events, and wildfires. Other general processes, such as disaster recovery, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and political economy and socioenvironmental processes of disaster risk creation are fundamental to understanding the complexity of natural hazard governance. Chile has a long history of disasters linked to its geographical and climatological diversity as well as its history and development path. The country has made significant advances toward an effective disaster risk management (DRM) system, which is backed up by sophisticated monitoring systems for earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydro- and meteorological events, and wildfires. These technical advances are integrated with disaster response mechanisms that include trained personnel, regulatory frameworks, institutions, and other actors, all under the direction of the National Emergency Office. The Chilean mode of DRM and DRR is characterized by a centralized, top-down approach that limits the opportunities for community organizations to participate in discussions of DRR and decision-making. It also centralizes planning of post-disaster processes such as reconstruction. Likewise, the dominant politico-economic model of Chile is neoliberalism. This development path has reproduced the root causes of disaster vulnerability through socioeconomic inequalities as well as poorly regulated urbanization and the practices of extractive industries. This has created numerous socioenvironmental conflicts throughout the Chilean territory with sometimes hazardous effects on local communities, especially indigenous groups. The governance of hazards and risk reduction in Chile still has a long way to go to secure the country’s path to sustainable human development.