Communicating Risk and Cultivating Resilience in Rural Alaskan Communities: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Flood Mitigation

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:30 AM
Yekaterina Y Kontar, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States
The increasing extent and vulnerability of technologically advanced society together with aspects of global climate change intensifies the frequency and severity of natural disasters. Every year, communities around the world face the devastating consequences of hazardous events, including loss of life, property and infrastructure damage, and environmental decline. Environmentally sound strategies have to be developed to minimize these consequences. However, hazard-prone areas differ geographically, climatically, and culturally. There is no a one-size-fits-all solution. Thus, it is crucial that future decision-makers not only know the conditions that make some natural Earth processes hazardous to people, but also understand how people perceive and adjust to potential natural hazards in their regions. In May 2013, an ice jam caused major flooding in Galena, a remote village in interior Alaska. Within two days, flooding destroyed nearly the entire region’s infrastructure, and displaced over 400 residents. Almost a year later, a significant part of Galena’s population was still evacuated in Fairbanks and other neighboring towns. The rebuilding holdup reflected the federal government’s reluctance to spend millions of dollars an the area that may be destroyed again by the next flood. Massive floods inundated towns along the Yukon River before (e.g., Eagle in 2009 and Holycross in 1975), but people return to refurbish and again inhabit the same territories. Rivers have a significant importance to Alaskan rural communities. Not only do rivers provide food, drink, transportation, and in some cases arable land and irrigation, but they also carry cultural significance for the Native Alaskan people. The Galena case study provides a revealing example of challenges of communicating with and educating the public and policy makers about natural hazards.