iCRiSP Highlight: Thesis Teun Terpstra

‘POOR GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATION ON THE RISK OF FLOODS’

UNIVERSITY OF TWENTE PHD STUDENT EXAMINES HOW PREPARED THE DUTCH PUBLIC IS IN THE EVENT OF A FLOOD

Though the risk of a flood in the Netherlands is not imminent, the Dutch public is not sufficiently prepared should one occur. This is the finding of a study carried out by the behavioural scientist Teun Terpstra. ‘The government places too much emphasis on reassuring people that we’re safe rather than informing the public of the possible consequences of a flood so we know what to do if it all goes wrong.' Terpstra is awarded his PhD by the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences of the University of Twente on 15 January 2010.

Due to the fact that two thirds of the Netherlands is vulnerable to flooding from the sea or large rivers, we invest large sums of money in the construction and maintenance of dykes. 'And rightly so,' says the researcher Teun Terpstra of the University of Twente, 'but the government places too much emphasis on reassuring people that we're safe rather than informing the public of the possible consequences of a flood so we know what to do if it all goes wrong.' No matter how well we shore up our defences, flooding remains a threat. And hardly anyone knows what to do in such a situation. Should we evacuate or stay in our homes? The findings of my study show that people think it is important that the government also invests in comprehensive disaster and crisis management for floods. But how prepared should we be? This is a question for the government to decide and, on the basis of this decision, devise a public information campaign.'

RISK AREAS

Terpstra's study included over 3500 Dutch citizens exposed to the risks of flooding, such as those living in the Randstad conurbation, the Flevopolder and the delta. Only one or two people plan to take any precautionary measures over the next ten years. The most popular points cited by those who did plan to take precautionary measures were searching for information on the consequences of a flood in their own area and evacuation options. A total of 30 percent of those interviewed expressed interest in this kind of information. Terpstra's study attempts to explain why the Dutch public's lack of intent to take precautionary action is so prevalent. There are a number of explanations. The high level of protection in the Netherlands and long periods without any flooding has made many complacent and has created something of a blind spot in many people's understanding of the risks involved. Another reason is the paucity of resources available with which to protect yourself in the event of a flood.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Terpstra's study makes several recommendations. The government should create greater public awareness of the real risks instead of merely reassuring people that everything has been taken care of. Furthermore, the government should examine the implications of a possible flood at a regional level and publish their findings directly to the public. The government's current strategy is to conduct general public information campaigns throughout the Netherlands. However, Terpstra's study indicates that the public would be more inclined to take precautionary measures if the information and advice were more specific.

NOTE TO THE PRESS:

Terpstra will be awarded his PhD by the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences of the University of Twente on 15 January. He conducted his research within the Psychology & Communication of Health & Risk (PCHR) research department and the Institute for Behavioural Research. His supervisors were Prof. Erwin Seydel and Jan Gutteling. The study forms part of the research project PROmO and is partly funded by the 'Leven met Water' campaign (living with water). A digital copy of his thesis 'Flood Preparedness; thoughts, feeling and intentions of the Dutch public' is available on request.