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Pin the Risk on the Register

Pin the Risk on the Register

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s been a while since I last blogged. I’d like to say that I’ve been busy with other things, or have been honing and fine-tuning this update for months. I really would like to say that.

Pin The Tail On the Donkey

However, reality is that for a while there wasn’t anything I was finding particularly sharable, and then because it’d been a while I forgot my password to login! However, I am back with renewed passion, and a plethora of things that I want to get off my chest about emergency management and resilience. *pauses for whooping*

Earlier in the year I attended the International Pint of Science Festival 2014 in London, where interesting, fun and relevant cutting-edge science talks are delivered in an accessible format to the public – in the pub!”. That sounded like my kind of event, and even better, the pub in question was a boat! So I headed below deck ‘below deck’ on Thamesis Dock (a converted Dutch barge moored just between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridges) and propped up the bar!

First up was Faith Turner talking about the mechanics of landslides, which was particularly pertinent as the Oso landslide in Washington had just happened. With a nod to the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, Faith revealed her demonstrator “Andrex Mountain”, to show some of the mechanics in play. However, this was essentially the warm up act…

Next was Professor Bruce Malamud from Kings College London talking about risk and how the public and experts can have different perceptions.

In preparation for the TV programme Perfect Storms: Disasters that changed the world (Yesterday 2013), the producers contacted Bruce to consider the results of a survey that they had undertaken. In what I expect was a bit like Family Fortunes, a group of 2000 people were asked ‘how risky’ they thought a number of scenarios were. The results of this survey were then compared to the ‘expert assessment of risk’ in the form of the National Risk Register.

What the study revealed (putting methodological flaws to one side) was that in some cases the expert and public perceptions of risk line up quite well, but for other scenarios there is a dramatic difference of opinion.

I spoke to Bruce after the talk, and we’re now looking at conducting some further research using the Talk London platform to see if there are wide discrepancies in risk perception specifically in London. essentially I want to play a game of Pin the Risk on the Register!

Awareness of what people are concerned about (and what they’re not) as well as a deeper understanding of factors that influence risk perception will then hopefully be useful in making our risk communication more effective.

For example – Heatwave is assessed as a High Risk, yet routinely people don’t take too much action either in advance of or during a heatwave. What factors influence that behaviour? How can we better understand the public perception of Heatwaves, and use that to target communications more effectively? (this particular example comes from a conversation with my parents late last summer when I ‘got it in the neck’ with questions like What does a Leave 4 Heatwave mean? and Can’t you find something better to say than keep cool when it’s hot?).

As the project develops I’ll keep you updated on what we find out and how it influences our thinking!

Talking about talking about risk

Talking about talking about risk

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Apocalyptic movies are a sucessful genre, 2012 took $769,679,473 at the box office. By my rudimentary maths, working on an average ticket price of £8, this means 64,456,930 people (globally) have seen John Cusack fly a plane through tumbling skyscrapers (if you haven’t there’s a still below). Anyway, what’s the point of this…well, despite movie success, getting the public to appreciate real risks of emergencies is often a challenge.

2012 still

There are a number of reasons for this, not least that the range of heuristics and biases which limit all of our abilities to accurately percieve risk (and which are partly shaped by movies). However, the aspect that I’m focusing on here relates to accessibility, by which I mean the ease of understanding information, not whether it’s available in large print and different languages.

To be clear, I don’t advocating “dumbing down” content, but I do think that there are ways of presenting information which facilitates it’s ease of use. Too often we conceptualise ‘the public’ as abstract dimwits with a reading age of 7 and no ability to have their own thoughts. I firmly oppose this stance and we should remember that “out there” are incredibly inteligent business people, entrepeneurs, professors, doctors and whole swathes of people exposed to complex information on a daily basis.

Having a lead responsibility for risk assessment in London means I spend much of my time thinking about how we can communicate risk information both to professional partners, but also to the public. We’ve certainly seen the Rise of the Infographic over the last couple of years, as shown in the Google Trends graph below. I’m currently playing with some thoughts on how this infographic approach could be used in the context of risk assessment.

Another recent approach that I’ve been trying recently is to avoid sending people directly to a risk register. A 40 page document doesn’t sound like something even I want to read, so why would anyone else? I discovered Prezi about 2 years ago, and have recently developed the presentation below to outline the London Risk Register. It’s already had nearly 1000 views, which is significantly more than the number of hits the London Risk Register has recieved. I’m not saying that’s an indicator of sucessful risk communication, but perhaps it indicates that proving risk information in a non traditional ways (by which I mean, not a document) is preferable?

Take a look, what do you think? Is this a more convienient way, for the public and community, to recieve risk information? Does it break down any of the barriers associated with traditional methods, or are people just interested in the novelty of Prezi’s zooming?

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures