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Advancing Flood Risk Communication and Management through Collaboration and Public Participation

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 4.0 license

Flooding has been a pressing problem for communities around the world. The problem is expected to worsen due to climate change and sea level rise. Despite decades of research on risk communication and management, the toll of flooding continues to mount. In order to advance flood management to minimize future damages, there is a need to foster collaboration among research communities, promote the genuine engagement of local stakeholders, and co-develop targeted risk communication and mitigation strategies between experts and non-experts.

This dissertation experimented with different participatory approaches, such as household surveys, cognitive mapping, and focus group discussions, in order to respectively (1) examine how one’s spatial awareness of flood risk is influenced by the interactions between social, geographical, informational, and hydrological factors, (2) identify differences in expert and non-expert flood knowledge, and (3) integrate diverse stakeholder perspectives in the future development of flood visualizations. Our findings indicate that flood awareness varies significantly between social groups from different geographical regions with different personal characteristics, which point to the need for targeted risk communication and outreach activities in order to address the concern of risk variability. Moreover, we found that while details and realism in flood visualizations can have positive cognitive and affective impacts on users, it is crucial for experts to be cognizant of stakeholders’ background and expertise as these factors may influence their visualization preferences.

Although flood risk awareness is one of the precursors to the adoption of mitigation and preparatory measures, and flood visualizations have the potential to positively impact one’s awareness. We have demonstrated that one’s response to flood information can be influenced by the complex feedback of social, geographical, informational, and hydrological factors. Thus, rather than looking at the development of flood model or flood visualizations as an end in itself, we must look to more adaptive and “no-regret” strategies such as the development of targeted risk communication campaigns and the accumulation of social capital as means to promoting risk mitigation behaviors, which can ultimately increase community resilience in light of the growing problem of flooding.

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