Does risk awareness change behaviour?

Does risk awareness change behaviour?

The results of an online survey.


3 August 2020

The results of an online survey.

Are people who live next to an active volcano or on an earthquake fault-line more risk-aware? Does the direct experience of a disaster affect people’s future behaviour in preparing for similar events? And are there noticeable differences depending on their age, gender, educational or cultural background? These and other similar questions were explored as part of an international online survey between December 2019 to January 2020 as part of an EU project focussed on increasing disaster resilience across Europe.

The survey showed that as might be expected those living in disaster risk areas and, more particularly, those who have experienced a disaster first-hand are generally more risk-aware and also more likely to prepare for future similar disasters. Risk awareness was actually highest among those who live in countries or areas at risk of more than one type of disaster and among those who have been physically affected by a disaster – either being injured or suffering property damage. The survey also showed that women were more likely to have prepared for future disasters.

One interesting finding is that people who have experienced a disaster first-hand generally also feel more self-confident to deal with the negative effects of such disasters in future. This could though actually increase their vulnerability. An international expert who lives in an area at risk of seasonal flooding told us in an interview that previous experience of a disaster can actually lead to a false sense of preparedness – in particular where a disaster is more severe than a previous one.

“In Waterloo Region, Canada, for example, flooding is probably one of the biggest recurring hazards. So that people who live in those flood plain areas are very knowledgeable about flooding hazards, they know how to prepare, they know what to do and how to respond to flood risks. But on the other hand, it also creates this vulnerability, because people have this perception that they know what to do. And so, the police often have a lot of trouble getting people to evacuate because they say: ‘Oh, we know how to deal with this. We have experience of this. We are fine to stay here!”
Dr. Erin O’Connell (University of Waterloo)

The survey was administered online using the Qualtrics online survey platform and could be completed in six languages: Bulgarian, English, German, Greek, Italian and Slovenian. We received responses for 717 people across 27 countries, with the largest number coming from Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, the UK, Slovenia, Greece, and Norway – so it does not provide a representative snapshot of views across Europe. The survey was also conducted before one of the biggest disasters of our time – the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – and focused primarily on natural disasters. So, it is unlikely to tell us very much about people’s likely behaviour in response to the current situation.

For further details about the project see: www.resilocproject.eu

Read more about the Tavistock Institute’s involvement in the RESILOC project.

For more details about the survey, please contact: Dr Thomas Spielhofer: t.spielhofer@tavinstitute.org

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