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Public Perception of the Risks of Floods: Implications for Communication
Floods in the U.S. kill an average of 162 people each year and cause $3.4 billion in property damage. Flood control programs have been successful in lowering, but not eliminating, the risks to lives and property. Since the late 1960s, the federal government has emphasized flood insurance as a primary tool for improving location and flood-proofing decisions, as well as for reimbursing flood losses. Since only 12.7% of houses in flood plain areas are covered by flood insurance, the program has been ineffective. We interviewed people living in three communities that had recently been flooded. Most people had little knowledge of the cause of floods or what could be done to prevent damage. People who work and who are better educated know more and are more likely to have flood insurance. Current government publications about flood risks are not likely to be understood by those at risk. There is little effective communication about the nature and magnitude of the risks and what individuals can do to protect their lives and property and lower their financial risks. The risk management program should both emphasize communication and enforcement of the current law requiring people at risk who hold federally funded loans to be insured.