How have attitudes to disaster risk reduction (DRR) changed over recent years?
Lydia Pedoth: There’s more space to operate in this field – previously and traditionally dominated by engineers and geologists who had the technical expertise. Once hydro-geological risk mapping systems and structural protection measures were considered the principal preventative measure in DDR. Now the realisation has come that we can’t simply protect ourselves, there is always a residual risk. The way that people talk to each other, react and see the social aspects of risk has become a more important focus. Realising this meant that other disciplines had to be involved. Nowadays we work a lot also on the timeframe before events, not only during and after.
Have new technologies enabled development?
Pedoth: Raising awareness to risks (avalanches, rock falls, landslides) is currently a key focus even when a hazard hasn’t occurred. After many years, there’s been a departure from the data deemed important, not depending solely on mapping techniques and geo-environmental conditions but developing more accessible and understandable tools. Within one of our ongoing projects (RiKoST), alongside the Agency for Civil Protection we’ve created a 3D film with a virtual reality headset, the viewer can look to one side and see a real-life situation – a town square in South Tyrol and, by turning their head, can see the square flooded. The film was made using a real scenario, real data and real photographs of previous events. People who’ve never experienced a flood situation can really see how it would look. We also made a similar film about a rock fall here in Bolzano, one minute everything is normal and when the viewer turns, they are faced with the effects resulting from the rock fall.
Where to begin with such a scary subject?
Pedoth: The thing is to make people start thinking about if they live in a risk zone. To open them to the possibility of this issue and improve community resilience and adapt communities to change. It’s a difficult subject to broach, sensitive, it’s not “light”, it’s something you know is dangerous and could cause damage, it’s not a “pleasant” subject, people generally avoid it. If your house is in a risk zone, the value of the property is the subject, which of course is highly personal.
Once inhabitants are opened to this subject what’s next?
Pedoth: Surveys to see what people know and perceive – the channels of information they use and which institutions they trust, for example radio and news announcements, flyers, social media. We talk to different generations, one strategy is not best for everyone, especially when considering the young and the elderly. You need to find the right strategies for different groups. We wanted to see if women behaved differently from men or whether young people reacted differently from the elderly, if permanent residents’ reactions were different to those of people had just moved to the area in question or were only living in them temporarily. Then with the authorities we develop communication tools like videos and trainings for professionals. Each community has different needs, not everyone speaks the same language, uses the internet, watches the same channels or reads the same papers.