The Role of Risk Perception and Community Networks in Preparing for and Responding to Landslides

Submitted by Richard Taylor | published 10th Jun 2019 | last updated 13th Oct 2020
Figure 1 The case study area

Figure 1 The case study area

Summary

This chapter presents results from a study in the small alpine community of Badia (South Tyrol/Italy) that had recently experienced the effects of a large landslide event, causing damages to buildings and leading to partial evacuation.

The objective of the study was to understand how risk perception, local knowledge and social networks contribute to resilience within and amongst communities. We investigated two principal community types: geographical communities and communities of supporters. We adopted a mixed-method approach to get a fuller understanding of which key factors influence resilience, how to assess them and how they are connected.

Findings show that even though people living in Badia have high risk awareness, they did not expect and prepare for the landslide , nor did they perceive themselves responsible for taking measures to protect and prepare themselves. Further, personal experience, together with active involvement in disaster response in the past lead to a higher risk perception. Having a strong personal network enables access to information coming from “real faces” and appears to be very important for community resilience. 

This working paper* looks at the role that perception, local knowledge, and social networks play in community resilience.

*Donwload the full text from the right-hand column.

Disaster context

In the Alps, natural hazards are part of everyday life and tied into local history and culture. Communities live with permanent risk and have to cope frequently with the impact of small and sometimes major events. These events help shape the livelihoods, identity and resilience of communities.

In December 2012 a landslide occurred in Badia, triggered by heavy precipitation and temperature variations in the weeks and months before the event. The landslide covered an area of 42.5 hectares with a maximum extent of 400 m width and 1500 m length. Impacts included four residential buildings being destroyed and 37 people  in the immediate vicinity being evacuated. Figure 1 shows the destroyed houses. the extent of the landslide, and a previous landslide at exactly the same position which occurred around 200 years ago.

The landslide activated a number of response mechanisms by the Bolzano provincial government. Since 1972, based on the principle of subsidiarity, Bolzano has the primary responsibility for managing the risks of potentially damaging events such as natural hazards and to carry out all activities in this respect, as long as the extent of the emergency event does not exceed the provincial capacities. Besides the provincial administration, the municipalities constitute an additional main player in risk governance in South Tyrol, supported by locally-based volunteer organisations.

Methods

We set out to explore changes in people’s risk perception following the landslide. We investigated these aspects through a questionnaire distributed in April 2014 to all adults living in the municipality of Badia (2523 questionnaires with a response rate of 43% (N=1096)). Using this dataset we conducted a cluster analysis using the SPSS™ TwoStep clustering method to examine the characteristics within the different clusters in terms of age, gender and “degree of being affected by the landslide” to identify distinctive “risk behaviour” profiles.

We also applied an ANOVA test to test if satisfaction level differed between groups (i.e. affected people and not-affected people, different age classes) pre- and post-disaster. Following this, we analysed social networks within and among communities, and carried out a modularity analysis to detects community structure.

While social network analysis (SNA) often uses quantitative methods to generate numerical measures of structural properties (Borgatti et al., 2002), we applied qualitative social network mapping through key informant interviews to map and visualize patterns of responsibility and power of the different authorities and actors involved in natural hazard management, and the linkages between the organizational network and the community. 

We applied these methods to investigate two principal community types: i) Geographical communities: those with identifiable geographical or administrative boundaries or arising from other forms of physical proximity, and ii) Communities of supporters: people drawn from organizations (both statutory and voluntary) who provide disaster-related services and support at provincial and local levels.

Analysis

Through our analysis we identified four clusters of risk perception:

  • Aware but not concerned. People belonging to this group knew that Badia is exposed to landslides but had no previous personal landslide experience, did not actively participate in the clean-up works and do not feel threatened by future landslides (384 persons, 43.5%).
  • Experienced and concerned. Respondents are characterised by a high awareness of natural hazards. Most of them had personally experienced a landslide event in the past, and most indicated that they are concerned and feel threatened by future landslides (231 persons, 26.2%).
  • Not aware but concerned. Respondents in this cluster were mostly not aware that their municipality is exposed to landslides. They had not experienced an event in the past, and were not involved in the response activities. They felt at risk of being affected by a landslide in the future (157 persons 17.8%).
  • Active, aware and concerned. People belonging to this group did not experience previous landslides but were aware that Badia is exposed to them. Although (or because) they were involved in the clean-up works, since 2012 they feel highly threatened by possible future landslides (111 persons, 12.6%).

The size of the clusters reflects the fact that most people were not affected by the landslide. The  majority are aware of living in a landslide prone area, but do not feel at risk. The spatial distribution of the inhabitants may explain this: the biggest settlements in the valley are located at the valley floor and are therefore relatively safe.

Analysis of temporal variability showed that affected people are less satisfied about the response and recovery actions than non-affected people, in both periods. Satisfaction in the response of both affected and non-affected people decreases significantly during the 16 months following the disaster.  

Lessons Learnt

Results show that the local actors play an important role in the immediate response, and that trust between the community and local authorities and services (e.g. fire brigade) is strong.

In terms of resilience, our findings show that it is important to look not only at the short term after a disaster, but to foresee and improve strategies over longer timeframes. Analysis also shows the importance of local and traditional knowledge, as well as social capital and networks for access to information and resources.

Our results were of particular interest and benefit for the local authorities, since this was the first time that they had a representative picture of people’s perceptions and satisfaction with their work, rather than only individual or ad hoc complaints or positive feedback through personal contacts or the media.

Our study confirms the usefulness of maps for structuring the knowledge of a range of significant actors and re-presenting that knowledge in a way that is quickly and relatively easily usable and understandable by other actors in other positions in space and time.

Cited sources

Borgatti, S., Everett M. and L. Freeman (2002). Ucinet for Windows: Software for Social Network Analysis. Analytic Technologies.

Further resources