‘It'll never happen to me’: understanding public awareness of local flood risk


Dr. Kate Burningham, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, Guildford GU2 7XH, UK. Telephone: 01483 686688; e-mail: K.Burningham@surrey.ac.uk.


Following the severe flood events of 1998 and 2000, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency prioritised the need to increase public flood risk awareness. Drawing on data collected during research undertaken for the Environment Agency, this paper contributes to understanding of one aspect of flood awareness: people's recognition that their property is in an area that is potentially at risk of flooding. Quantitative analyses indicate that class is the most influential factor in predicting flood risk awareness, followed by flood experience and length of time in residence. There are also significant area differences. Our qualitative work explores how those defined as ‘at risk’ account for their lack of awareness or concern about their risk status. We conclude that the problem is often not simply a lack of awareness, but rather, assessments of local risk based on experience that underestimate the impact of rare or extreme events. We underline the importance of engaging with local perspectives on risk and making local people part of ‘awareness-raising’ processes.