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Flooding Risks: A Comparison of Lay People's Perceptions and Expert's Assessments in Switzerland

Authors

  • Michael Siegrist,

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      *Address correspondence to Michael Siegrist, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Plattenstrasse 14, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland; tel: +41 44 634 44 71; fax: +41 44 634 49 31; siegrist@sozpsy.unizh.ch.
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      Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. MUB, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
  • Heinz Gutscher

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      Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

*Address correspondence to Michael Siegrist, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Plattenstrasse 14, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland; tel: +41 44 634 44 71; fax: +41 44 634 49 31; siegrist@sozpsy.unizh.ch.

Abstract

Experts on the risk of flooding have developed very detailed maps for different parts of Switzerland that indicate the types of damage possible and the probabilities of adverse events. Four categories of risk severity are defined on the maps, ranging from high risk to no risk. Based on these existing maps, we selected respondents for a mail survey, some from areas high in risk and others from low-risk regions. Respondents answered several questions related to flood risk perception and preparedness. Survey results showed that respondents' risk perceptions were correlated with the experts' risk assessments. Respondents who lived in areas designated “no risk” by the experts had lower perceptions of risk than respondents who lived in areas with higher levels of designated risk. With regard to concrete prevention behavior, no differences between people living in different risk areas were observed. Survey results further suggest that many inhabitants do not know that flooding maps exist for their region. Results suggest that in some regions people overestimate the risks associated with flooding. Consequently, some people are more afraid of flooding than is justified by the facts. Some people show prevention behavior that most likely is superfluous. However, in other regions people underestimate the risks associated with flooding. These people do not show prevention behavior, and they are not well prepared for an adverse event. Furthermore, results suggest that respondents' experiences with flooding are positively related to their perceptions of flood risk. Findings of the present study are in line with the availability heuristic.

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