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"Know What to Do If You Encounter a Flash Flood": Mental Models Analysis for Improving Flash Flood Risk Communication and Public Decision Making

"Know What to Do If You Encounter a Flash Flood": Mental Models Analysis for Improving Flash Flood Risk Communication and Public Decision Making

Risk Analysis 36(2): 411-427

Understanding how people view flash flood risks can help improve risk communication, ultimately improving outcomes. This article analyzes data from 26 mental models interviews about flash floods with members of the public in Boulder, Colorado, to understand their perspectives on flash flood risks and mitigation. The analysis includes a comparison between public and professional perspectives by referencing a companion mental models study of Boulder-area professionals. A mental models approach can help to diagnose what people already know about flash flood risks and responses, as well as any critical gaps in their knowledge that might be addressed through improved risk communication. A few public interviewees mentioned most of the key concepts discussed by professionals as important for flash flood warning decision making. However, most interviewees exhibited some incomplete understandings and misconceptions about aspects of flash flood development and exposure, effects, or mitigation that may lead to ineffective warning decisions when a flash flood threatens. These include important misunderstandings about the rapid evolution of flash floods, the speed of water in flash floods, the locations and times that pose the greatest flash flood risk in Boulder, the value of situational awareness and environmental cues, and the most appropriate responses when a flash flood threatens. The findings point to recommendations for ways to improve risk communication, over the long term and when an event threatens, to help people quickly recognize and understand threats, obtain needed information, and make informed decisions in complex, rapidly evolving extreme weather events such as flash floods.

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Accession: 057002010

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 26369521

DOI: 10.1111/risa.12480

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