Graduation Year

2004

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Geography

Major Professor

Tobin, Graham.

Keywords

flood hazards, hazard perception, natural hazards, flood policy, National Flood Insurance Program

Abstract

In response to the rising costs of floods, the United States has adopted sophisticated programs to mitigate the loss of life and property. However, the efficient implementation of certain aspects of flood policy has taken precedence over effective communication. The scope of the National Flood Insurance Program and the efficient coding of "the 100 year flood" have led to a pervasive use of the term in both formal and informal risk communication. When officials began consciously communicating flood policy to the public, they assumed a narrow "engineering" model and did not fully anticipate the influence of informal communication on the perception of flood risk. The effectiveness of the "100 year flood" as a means to change attitudes or motivate behaviors was not assessed. Nor was its utility in increasing public understanding of flood risk. New explanatory methods have been introduced, but they, too, have yet to be tested.

This project evaluated the effectiveness of four methods commonly used to communicate the risk associated with policy's benchmark flood. These include: a 100 year flood; a flood with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year; a flood with a 26 percent chance of occurring in 30 years; and a flood risk map available through Project Impact. Data were collected using a structured face to face questionnaire survey of residents living in Wimberley, Texas. Respondents included individuals who lived inside the boundaries of official flood plains, as well as those who did not. Comparable questions regarding uncertainty, perceived need for protection, and levels of concern were asked using each of the four methods of description. Qualitative observations were made during both the interviews and the collection of secondary data.

Results showed a significant disjuncture of understanding and persuasion with each method; potentially serious problems with the 26 percent chance method; and a preference for concrete references in describing risk. It is recommended that use of the 26 percent chance method be discontinued. Both the 100 year flood and the map performed better than expected; these descriptions are recommended with reservations in lieu of more contextually appropriate methods of communication and policy formation.

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