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Koerth, J.. Sturmhochwasser an der Ostseeküste - Wahrnehmung eines Naturrisikos. In: EUCC - Die Küsten Union Deutschland e.V.. International approaches of coastal research in theory and practice. Coastline Reports (13), pp. 95-104. EUCC - The Coastal Union, Leiden, 2009.


Coastal flooding at the Baltic Sea coast – perception of a risk.

The coast of the Baltic Sea in Schleswig-Holstein is a coastline which is partially protected by anti-flooding structures: Lowlands are protected by dykes whereas urban centres along the coast are more vulnerable to large floods. The combination and interdependence of various factors determine the intensity of such an event. Thus, storm floods rarely occur in the semi-enclosed Baltic Sea. The last storm flood with disastrous effects took place more than 130 years ago.

The perception of risk is a matter of how to define risk. From a natural scientific and technological point of view, risk is the product of the extent of damages and the probability of occurrence - or other measurable variables. Socio-scientists, however, consider risk as a social construction: People devise risks intuitively and in different ways. That is the reason why a phenomenon becomes a risk because of some other factors from a layman´s point of view. Some decisive questions are, can you take the risk voluntarily, can you control it yourself, or are you personally affected? Findings of social psychologists showed a high correlation between the terribleness of and the knowledge about risks and the perception of the whole risk above all. This study, which is also based on factors of the psychometric risk analysis, deals with the following questions:

How do coastal dwellers, i. e. those who are potentially involved in case of a flooding event, perceive storm floods at the Baltic Sea? Are protective measures against flooding along the coast of any importance in terms of their perception of risk? What are the differences and parallels with regard to coastal dwellers' (i. e. laymen's) and experts' risk perception?

Methodically, a comparison was made by questioning both groups, risk area residents and experts, with the same variables. Due to the different definitions of risk in risk analysis, this comparison has generally proved to be problematic.

The collection of variables was aggregated to a risk index. Special questionnaires with mainly close-type questions were asked. Coastal dwellers as risk area residents (n = 60) were questioned in person in two locations, the area of the Probstei with protective measures against flooding, and the city of Flensburg without any. The experts (n = 60), who deal professionally with storm floods at the Baltic Sea, were questioned through electronic medium.

The results of the study can be summarized as follows: Risk area residents are rather ambiguous in their perception of coastal flood risk. It is neither considered great nor insignificant. In general, existing protective measures imply risk. When there are protective measures against flooding, the probability of occurence, one's own involvement, one's own fear and one's own knowledge are regarded as considerably high. Experts and coastal dwellers have a similar assessment of risk. The experts have more ideas than risk area residents which measures could be taken by those who might be personally affected.

The results of the study reveal that the perception of the risk of coastal flooding at the Baltic Sea is related to external parameters such as existing or non-existing protective measures. That should be taken into account when communicating about risk. The result on a methodic level, i. e. the operationalizability of a comparison of laymen's and experts' perception of risk, can generally help to improve communication about risk and, thus, risk management.
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