BOX 2.3

An Unwarranted Sense of Safety?

A 2001 study conducted by Pfister (2002) of the evacuation of Grafton, New South Wales, Australia, before a flood event addressed perceptions of flood risk. A local river was expected to rise to a height 0.13 m below the expected height of protection offered by local levees. Because of uncertainties inherent in river-crest predictions, the town was ordered to evacuate, but fewer than 10 percent of the population are estimated to have evacuated (Pfister, 2002). Pfister noted that "the residents of Grafton, having experienced few direct effects of flooding since the construction of the levees, are likely to have developed a relatively low consciousness of the flood threat, and are therefore less ready to act" (Pfister, 2002, p. 24).

•  Available data can lead to an unwarranted sense of safety. Those living or working in a region protected by a levee may consider themselves immune to flooding, especially given a lack of data, incorrect data, or misinterpretation of available data. Box 2.3 is an example of a community that largely failed to adhere to a flood evacuation order, apparently because it lacked awareness of the flood threat. Communities behind levees and dams may believe they are “safe,” and may not fully understand the value of the infrastructure, the need to maintain it, or the actions to be taken in the event of failure.


Social capital refers to the connections among social networks that can be used, through collaboration, to obtain societal goals—in this case, community resilience. The concept of social capital has been in the sociologic, economic, and political science literature for several decades; one of the earliest uses of the term was by Hanifan (1916). Political scientist Robert Putnam and coauthors developed the concept in Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Putnam et al., 1993). Putnam et al. explain the dilemmas of collective action and how they can be overcome by a stock of social capital, by the existence of networks of civil engagement, and through norms of reciprocity—the expectation that people will treat or serve others as they themselves have been treated or served. He attributes the emergence of democratic institutions, behavior, and social trust to the growth of participation in voluntary organizations in which people acquire skills and develop expectations with respect to social behaviors. These skills include the ability to negotiate, compromise, work together, and provide leadership. They are assets, sometimes described as moral resources, that may be useful for building community resilience because people learn to cope together to solve

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