The science between tsunami science and evacuation decisions
Monday, 15 December 2014
The science of rare natural hazards provides us an opportunity that our ancestors lacked: the chance to learn what hazards we could face, and how reliable any particular precursor may or may not be. Connecting hazard science to societal learning is far too complex a challenge for our intuitions to be of much use. Instead, we need to use evidence - the science of science communication - to identify what actually works. As practitioners, we first worked with NGOs and local governments in coastal Sumatran communities to develop tsunami evacuation guidance that is consistent with the science of tsunamis and suitable for the communities that face the threat. This work identified important practical questions that social science can address: how do people decide whether to evacuate, and how do hazard knowledge and experience influence this? How acceptable are false alarms? What modes of communicating tsunami science and its uncertainties may lead to greater willingness to evacuate, and greater acceptance of false alarms? Which parts of the vast body of research on communication, risk perception, and decision-making might be significant in these contexts? We are beginning research at the household level that will address these questions and feed back into our continuing science-communication practice.