Recent natural hazard events in Australia and around the world provide constant reminders of why people should prepare and how people should behave. Yet, industry experiences and research shows that community members still fail to comply with instructions issued by government agencies . Particularly in the response and recovery phases of a natural disaster, individuals ignore official emergency instructions in favour of community-generated warnings. While non-compliant behaviour is often not in the best interest of the individual or community, non-compliance is not necessarily malicious or even intentional. However, individuals who fail to comply with instructions issued during natural hazards significantly impede the emergency response because they (a) divert resources to compliance enforcement, (b) risk the lives of emergency service workers who may later be required to assist them, and (c) confuse the core safety message or instruction. Moreover, there is a limited understanding of the legal ramifications of non-compliance from perspectives of individuals, agencies, or corporations.
This year the team have undertaken two work packages: (1) assessing message comprehension of emergency warnings (completed) and (2) experiments on message compliance (ongoing). Community message comprehension of emergency warnings was examined through ten focus groups across Australia. This qualitative work built on research conducted by end-user organisations and addresses issues raised by the National Review of Warnings and Information. Key findings included: time between message updates is used as a proxy for event severity, visuals aid in personalising the risk and overcoming limitations of geographic knowledge, location triggers attention and the personalisation of risk, hazard knowledge and past experience can influence message comprehension in ways that lead to negative unintended consequences, and over-warning is preferred to under-warning. Recommendations are made for how to amend existing emergency messages to improve community member message comprehension. Findings were reported to the BNHCRC 30 June 2016.
The experiments on message compliance are seeking to produce an evidence base for the effectiveness of existing message strategies, and work towards optimising those messages using theoretical insights from psychology, marketing, and behavioural economics. The findings from the community focus groups informed the different manipulations used in the experiments. For example, one experiment manipulated the time between updates with varying degrees of specificity and tested its effect on risk perceptions, information-seeking, and intentions to take protective action. Data collection is still underway and will be reported to the BNHCRC later this year.
Other activities completed during this reporting period included a workshop run by the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Emergency and Disaster Management titled “2036 Flood Hypothetical”. The event was attended by emergency services agencies, government agencies, and other key stakeholders, including representatives from the BNHCRC. The team has also engaged in on-going expert discussions with end-users and other key emergency management personnel around research results and utilisation.
In May 2016 the team attended the BNHCRC Research Advisory Forum in Hobart, Tasmania, where they presented an update on the project and ran a workshop with the end-users in attendance. The forum was valuable in gaining end-user input into the utilisation of the research. End-user engagement has been on-going throughout the year through one-on-one contact, teleconferences, bulletins, cluster bulletins, and face-to-face meetings where possible.
Some team members also attended and presented at the Australia New Zealand Emergency Management and Disaster Conference on the Gold Coast, Queensland in May 2016. The team also submitted a poster to the AFAC/BNHCRC 2015 Conference in Adelaide, South Australia. As the project moves forward, the next year will see completion of the required deliverables and utilisation of the research. As major natural disasters have a significant economic impact on society, even small changes in protective behaviours can be valuable . Informed emergency messaging can subsequently reduce the costs associated with disasters, which are largely attributed to the public response to the disaster , and could potentially save lives.