Perceptions of flooding in four Australian communities : results of focus groups with residents

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Becker, J.S.; Wright, K.C.; Doody, B.J.; Webber, D. 2010 Perceptions of flooding in four Australian communities : results of focus groups with residents Lower Hutt, N.Z.: GNS Science. GNS Science report 2010/58 37 p.

Abstract: The New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) is interested in understanding how communities perceive flood hazards, how this affects their behaviour in terms of preparedness and response, and how this links with the development of education and communication strategies. To understand such aspects better, NSW SES has commissioned a series of research projects focussed on flooding in at-risk communities. Surveys using postal questionnaires were conducted in 2005 and 2007 to collect data on flood perceptions, preparedness, and warnings in the communities of Grafton, Narrabri, Albury and Maitland in New South Wales, Australia. Following the surveys, a series of focus groups was run to explore residents’ attitudes towards, and understanding of, flood risk and preparedness in the same four communities. The focus groups were held the week of 25-29 May 2009 in Grafton and Narrabri, and the week of 22-26 June 2009 in Albury and Maitland. Focus group sessions were semi-structured with a convener leading the discussion and asking questions about aspects that were relevant. Issues covered were people’s understanding of flood hazards, previous experience with flooding, information required during a flood, information seeking, preparedness for flooding, response to flooding, understanding of and response to warnings, and community participation in flood issues. In general, the people who attended the focus groups had a reasonable understanding of flood issues. However, despite having good awareness, few had seen or received information about flood hazards (e.g. brochures, FloodSafe Guides, television, websites). People reported being interested in knowing more about flood hazards and what to do to prepare for and respond to flooding. During a flood people liked to have the option of receiving information from a variety of both official and informal sources. People’s perceptions of preparedness varied, with some considering that preparedness should be undertaken well before a flood event and others feeling that preparing was only necessary in the days leading up to a flood. People’s understanding of flood warning systems varied depending on the town in question, with some residents having a good understanding of what makes up their local warning system, and others not. Most residents knew they should not enter floodwater but most had done so. The people who attended the focus groups were adamant that local knowledge was an important aspect of understanding flood hazards and responding to an event. Very few people said that they participated in formally organised community activities around flooding issues; however some informal activities within communities did take place (e.g. helping neighbours out when a flood was threatening). Participants were generally positive about the role that community members could play in flood issues, and gave a variety of suggestions for future participation. (auth)