2022 – Evidence-based insights for effective dam failure communication

Aimee Tutticci – Seqwater, Nikki Sims-Chilton – Seqwater, Amisha M. Mehta – QUT, Ellen Tyquin – QUT, Manuela Taboada – QUT, Clinton S. Weeks -QUT Winnie Tran – QUT

Dam failures in the United Kingdom and United States have highlighted the need for downstream communities to be aware of and knowledgeable about risks so they might reasonably accept and appropriately respond to warnings at short notice. Although educational material about the risks and benefits of living near dams can be sourced by engaged community members in some regions (e.g., US residents can access Federal Emergency Management Agency material), this may not happen more broadly across the community who have a right to know about risk. This research highlights how co-designed material can effectively educate communities about dam failure.

Specifically, experts from Seqwater, Moreton Bay Regional Council (MBRC), and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia collaborated to develop a range of dam failure text and visual communication (i.e., maps and images) stimuli designed for North Pine Dam, which is located in South-East Queensland.

Following established risk communication models, these stimuli were evaluated by community members who lived downstream of North Pine Dam. First, participants provided information about themselves and perceptions of dam failure risk. They then evaluated dam failure educational collateral using message perception variables (e.g., comprehension and risk perception) and protective action intentions (e.g., look for further information, do nothing).

Findings indicate that the co-designed collateral educational stimuli were successful in informing participants about dam failure risks without alarming them (perceived risk of dam failure remained appropriately low), and that it successfully led to positive protective action, and low levels of “less adaptive” protective action intentions (i.e., doing nothing). Participants indicated they preferred stimuli with text and visual elements as opposed to just text, or just visuals. The findings provide localised evidence to support co-designed educational risk communication collateral about dam failure and have relevance particularly during dam upgrades.

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