Public awareness of risk and effective behavioural responses are fundamental to successful risk management strategies
The authors of the paper on which this case study is based are: Xin Lu Xie, Alex Y Lo, Yan Zheng, Jiahua Pan and Jing Luo, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China and Griffith University, Australia
Appeared in: Area: Volume 46, Issue 2
Reference: Xie, X. Lo, A.Y. Zheng, Y. Pan, J. and Luo, J. (2014) Generic security concern influencing individual response to natural hazards: evidence from Shanghai, China, Area 46:2, p194 - 202
China regularly experiences natural hazards. Over the last century (1900-2011), twelve million people died as a result of more than six hundred natural disaster events, with the country’s cities being particularly susceptible to damage and loss of life. Public awareness of risk and effective behavioural responses are fundamental to successful risk management strategies.
Despite being in a region that is vulnerable to natural hazard events such as extreme weather, there have been low levels of public engagement with disaster risk management in Shanghai and in China more generally. Writing about Shanghai, Wang et al (2012) attribute this, in part, to a lack of familiarity with the risks associated with coastal hazards among the large number of residents who have migrated from inland China. This example is just one that highlights the ways in which an individual’s cultural and socio-economic background, as well as the wider views of their society may influence one’s perception of, and willingness to react to, different risks. It is not enough to assume that in the face of certain natural hazards, populations will automatically behave in a certain way, or even have the same perception of the level of risk: the actual situation is a lot more complex and therefore has increasingly attracted interest from researchers (Hulme, 2009).
The authors of this paper surveyed 349 people with the aim of better understanding of the public’s hazard experience, attitudes towards risk, and attitudes towards household-based hazard response strategies. When faced with a range of hypothetical hazard situations and their associated possible responses (for example, purchasing individual/household insurance, relocation, obtaining specific meteorological information, participating in disaster-response training, and retrofitting homes to withstand extreme weather), those surveyed in Shanghai provided a number of useful observations which could be used to inform future risk management strategies.
Firstly, the results show that rare events were perceived as less risky than those that occur more frequently, and a degree of familiarity with a risk tended to reduce one’s willingness to take preventative action. Events which create the risk of limited resources (such as endangered energy and food security, and biodiversity loss) are seen as the most serious, while those associated with technological failures (such as nuclear weapons) were of less concern to survey respondents. Those surveyed believed that practical responses to risk were more acceptable than education and communication based responses, with strategies such as retrofitting homes seen to provide a strong sense of safety and assurance to individuals. The response to risk of least acceptability was the prior purchasing of insurance cover – something that is not common in China (Surminski, 2013).
Importantly, the survey findings reveal that attitudes towards risk management are not just influenced by the frequency of natural disasters, experience of extreme weather events, or understanding of the scale of certain hazards, but also on how the public perceive other non-climate related risks. The researchers found that individuals were more likely to engage in active natural hazard risk management strategies if they were concerned with broader non-meteorological risks to human security, such as energy security, health risks or terrorism. In this sense, peoples’ perception of the risks associated with natural hazards can be understood as part of what the authors call a broader ‘generic concern’ for human security rather than a distinct category of risk. Similarly, other researchers have found that a strong awareness of other forms of risk, such as that to national security, has a positive impact on the ways in which people take protective actions against natural hazards, suggesting that one’s perception of hazard risk is related to one’s perception of other risks (Rossi et al 1983; Thompson and Rayner, 1998).
Therefore, in this specific context, in order to persuade populations to take greater personal responsibility for natural hazard risk management, that risk should be more strongly contextualised in relation to other risky issues. For example, the authors suggest that messages surrounding risk education and communication for local extreme weather events should be framed as a response to a broader human security problem such as global climate change, rather than to an isolated localised natural hazard event. Risk perception, is therefore, a key starting point for effective hazard risk management. Discussing natural hazard risk in relation to other risks, and having wider conversations about the broad range of risks to human security, seems to be a positive movement in hazard management, and is one that the authors of this paper suggest will help policymakers and non-governmental organisations enhance residents’ resilience to extreme weather by developing successful household level risk management strategies.
Hulme, M. (2009) Why we disagree about Climate Change, CUP, Cambridge
Rossi, P. Wright, J. Weber-Burdin, E. and Pereira, J. (1983) Natural Hazards Victimization, Victims of the Environment, Plenum Press, New York
Surminski, S. (2013) Natural catastrophe insurance in China: policy and regulatory drivers for the agricultural and property sectors in Orie, M. and Stahel, W. (eds) The Geneva Reports: Risk and Insurance Research No. 7, The Geneva Association, Geneva, p71-80
Thompson, M. and Rayner, S. (1998) Risk and Governance Part 1: The Discourses of Climate Change, Government and Opposition, 33, p139-166
Wang, M. Amati, M. and Thomalla, F. (2012) Understanding the vulnerability of migrants in Shanghai to typhoons, Natural Hazards 60, p1189-1210
A naturally occurring event that has the potential to cause harm to people and / or the environment.
The likelihood of suffering adverse effects from a hazard.
Students can be asked to rank a multitude of natural hazards according to how ‘risky’ they believe them to be. They can then be asked to justify why they put the hazards in that order, leading to a discussion about how factors such as likely death toll and frequency might affect our judgement, as well as possibly where in the world they occur.
Students can be shown a copy of the Risk Equation and asked to comment over which part of the equation a population would have most control, in relation to natural hazards. Summarising some other forms of hazard, they can then say whether the same is true of those and whether the risk equation works for all forms of risk in our lives.
With reference to Shanghai, or another location at country or city scale, students can assess to what extent risk may increase or decrease in the future for a natural hazard of their choice. They can refer to the risk equation or their own methods of assessing the likelihoods of particular changes happening.
Xin Lu Xie‘s original article
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