Italy & Switzerland Alpine Hazards

Source Document: Lydia Pedoth, Sebastian Jülich, Richard Taylor, Christian Kofler, Nilufar Matin, John Forrester, Stefan Schneiderbauer. 2015-03-31. Case study report: Alpine Hazards in South Tyrol (Italy) and Grison (Switzerland). Deliverable 5.4
The Alpine hazards research was in two parts. The first based in the South Tyrol; the second  in the canton of Grisons in Switzerland.

Introduction to the South Tyrolean Research

In the Alps, natural hazards are part of everyday life and tied into local history and culture. They shape the livelihoods, identity and resilience of the community. Communities live with continuous risk and cope frequently with small, and sometimes major, impact events. Every year, different kinds of natural hazard events cause damages, losses and deaths. How to prepare for, cope with and recover from them are key questions for our society, particularly in mountain terrain. 

Within this context the emBRACE case study offered a great opportunity to investigate on community resilience by working in close contact with the local community of Badia in South Tyrol. Moreover, it allowed to collect empirical data in order to get a better understanding of which key aspects influence resilience, how to assess, describe and possibly measure them. The work was inspired and supported by the Autonomous Province of Bolzano, particularly interested due to its focus on communities and the inclusion of social sciences perspectives and methods in the often technical and natural-science-dominated research on risk and natural hazards.

The small alpine community of Badia in December 2012 was hit by an exceptionally big landslide. The municipality lies in a very landslide-prone area and experienced several events in the past, one big landslide event in exactly the same area in 1821. Against this background we were particularly interested in people’s risk perception and if risk perception increased after the recently experienced event, as described in other studies in different contexts and referred to different types of natural hazards (Perry and Lindell, 1990; Becker et al, 2001; Johnston et al, 1999). Furthermore, risk perception is a major factor that influences people’s motivation to support or implement preparedness, prevention and adaptation measures in the context of natural hazards. Nevertheless, at the same time people tend to be less worried about risks they know and they are familiar with (Jurt, 2009). Besides risk knowledge and past experience, within our work we wanted to investigate which other factors such as values, attitudes and feelings as well as cultural determinants influence natural hazard perception and risk attitude (Kuhlicke et al, 2011). These aspects are of particular value for the case study community as it belongs to a linguistic and cultural minority within the region of South Tyrol. 
One aim of our case study was to link the knowledge about risk perception to risk management, because it can contribute to shape a more effective community response. It can also help the responsible authorities in disaster planning activities and the development and improvement of strategies for disaster risk reduction (Eiser et al, 2012; Davis et al 2005). Therefore, we wanted to work also with the community of supporters, with officers from public authorities dealing with risk management, looking at the different interactions and networks among them, but also between them and the population. We think that a fuller grasp of what community resilience might be involves both an understanding of the top-down policy network responsible for “the big picture” and also of the community network, which may have its own resilience but which is also often responsible for the plan implementation. 

The research questions of the case study can be summarised into two groups. 

The first is focusing in risk perception and investigates the following questions:
How did the population of Badia perceive the landslide event in 2012?
Which aspects influence peoples’ risk perception?
How did the risk perception change due to the event in 2012?
What is the role of local knowledge and past hazard experience for community resilience?
How did people perceive the interventions carried out by authorities and organisation in response to the landslide event?

The second group of research questions looks at the role of social networks for community resilience and addresses the following questions:
How are present responsibilities and relationships between authorities and between persons in charge for natural hazard management shaped?
How do networks within the population interact with the network of organisational actors and the community of supporters?  
How do social and policy networks influence the resilience of communities?

Summary and Conclusions South Tyrolean Research

In this last section we want to summarise the main findings of the case study work in South Tyrol and draw some conclusions in terms of community resilience. 

Findings show that in the case study community Badia people have a high risk awareness, they are aware of living in an area of high risk and they know about past hazard events, some of them experienced them personnally while the majority has heard or read about it. Nevertheless, results show that before 2012 they did not expect a real event happening and as a consequence did not actively prepare for it by undertaking preparedness measures. While risk awareness is positively correlated with the age of respondents, elderly people being more aware of living in a high risk area, the perceived risk for future landsildes event is not related to age and is distributed in a similar way among all age groups: the most common answer was that they did not expect such an event happening. In line with this results is also the fact that people do not perceive themselves, as individuals, responsible for the mitigation and protection against natural hazards and the knowledge about existing mitigation and protection measures is quite low. Indeed, people have a high trust in authorities and civil protection actors and perceive them as responsible for mitigation and protection measures. The event experienced in 2012 had a huge impact on peoples’ risk perception, showing an increase especially for people that were affected directly by the landslide and for people that live in close proximity to the landslide area. 

Results of the case study work show the importance of local and traditional knowledge for resilience building. The most important information sources for past hazard knowledge are other village members and family, resulting more important than media. While media are more used by young people, surprisingly there is no difference by age groups for family and village members, being these the most important information sources also among young people. The family and the community show to be also an important information source after an event happening. In december 2012 people used them as much as the media to obtain information.

Being part of the community and having a strong family network, as well as with the other members of the community, and therefore having access to information coming from “real faces”, resulted to be very important for forming community identity. The feeling of community belonging and the strong presence of social networks proved to be very important as a crucial support to deal with the impacts of natural hazard events and to contribute positively to community resilience. 

In the case study we looked at the interactions between the population and the community of supporters and how people perceived the period after the event. We also considered the activities carried out by authorities and supporters. Results show that people are satisfied with the way authorities and supporters dealt with the event, particularly with the coordination of action forces. Also results from the interviews with key actors of the community of supporters point in the same direction and confirm the well funtioning and good management of the response phase. This is partly due to the fact that in the first days and weeks after an event happening, the public and media attention is high and during this period additional resources and funds are available. This is true for financial and human resources, but also in terms of solidarity and sympathy. In fact, results show that 16 months after the event the satisfaction with provided information and recovery actions decreased. In terms of resilience, out of the findings we can say that it is important to look not only at the short term after a disaster, but also to the mid and long term. Moreover, it is essential to foresee and improve strategies for the mid and long term, especially concerning information, because the impacts on peoples’ risk perception, their feelings of danger and concern about future hazards last beyond the first weeks and months after an event happening. 

Results from the social network mapping and analysis show that there is a high connectivity between the geographical community of Badia and the community of supporters. The results of the population network, showing to which organization people go for help and support in case of an event, reflect well and are coherent with the actions foreseen inside the existing local emergency plans. All results from the different analysis carried out for the network, such as frequency, centrality and importance of actors, show that the two most important actors are the volunteer fire brigade and the municipality of Badia. Both of them are locally based and people working for them are not only members of the community of supporters but also members of the community they support. In terms of resilience, this confirms the importance of the local presence on the territory and the interconnection between the geographical community and the community of supporters: knowing people working in the organization increases trust, and being part of the community people support leads to a better understanding of their needs and perceptions. These two elements are crucial for crises situations.

The results of the mapping and analysis of the organizational network carried out with key actors of the community of supporters show a highly interlinked core network involving actors from different organizational scales (local, provincial and national). The individually drafted maps show a high level of coherence, revealing that the actors have a similar view of the network, which is very important in a crises or disaster situation. Additional key factors for resilience turned out to be the existence of a local civil protection plan and regular emergency exercises, the fact that the core network needs little time to become active and fully operative, as well as the personal knowledge and trust in the other members of the network. Thanks to these characteristics, the network resulted to be very resilient with no missing links or marginalized members.

One could argue, and it could be interesting for further research, that some of the characteristics that proved to be positive for resilience in this circumstance could also weaken the stability and the resilience of the network under other circumstances. The fact for example that the network is “highly personalized” and actors know and trust each other could become critical for the network if one or more of the actors is not available or has to change.

The study focused on the network and its functioning after the landslide event in 2012. Results are also valid for other kind of hazards, because its structure and underlying regulations are the same and should guarantee more in general the protection of people and goods. The composition of its members can vary slightly according to the type of hazards and include additional experts. Despite this wider validity of the network and its hazard independency, its experiences are strongly linked to alpine hazards and therefore linked to well-known hazards. It would be interesting for further research to understand if the network performs in the same way and results resilient even if confronted with unknown hazards. 

The Grisons case study

The second part of the Alpine case study report draws on research conducted in the canton of Grisons in Switzerland. The main aim of the Grisons case study report is to investigate how resilience indicators at the local level can be developed. The emphasis here is on methodological issues.

Summary and Conclusion Grisons Research

If several fully quantified single indicators are developed, it is crucial to transform the input parameters always to the same numerical dimension reflecting the level of resilience. Otherwise the single indicators cannot be combined in form of a composite index. In this study values between and 0 and 1 was chosen. It is not always possible to fully operationalize an indicator quantitatively, nor is it reasonable. A higher level of quantification not automatically goes with higher relevance to resilience assessment. But there is a certain demand by practitioners for concrete quantitative measures of resilience. This has to be addressed by science and the aim of a resilience assessment should determine the indicator operationalization.

However, quantification inevitably means determination und therewith contestability. This is the reason why all steps of decisions made during the quantification of indicators should be laid open. Quantitative indicators are to be seen as the best possible quantitative operationalization according to present qualitative knowledge about resilience in the study region. Quantified indicators are never all encompassing for all time and all regions. When indicators are transferred from one region or country to another, the indicators have to be revalidated carefully to ensure that the indicators actually measure the intended concept.

Photo of the landslide event in Badia in December 2012. Destroyed residential buildings in the foreground. Source: Photo taken by Christian Iasio

Maureen Fordham,
Sep 23, 2015, 6:05 AM