Flood risk perceptions and spatial multi-criteria analysis: an exploratory research for hazard mitigation

Ruud Raaijmakers, Jorg Krywkow, Anne van der Veen

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The conventional method of risk analysis (with risk as a product of probability and consequences) does not allow for a pluralistic approach that includes the various risk perceptions of stakeholders or lay people within a given social system. This article introduces a methodology that combines the virtues of three different methods: the quantifiable conventional approach to risk; the taxonomic analysis of perceived risk; and the analytical framework of a spatial multi-criteria analysis. This combination of methods is applied to the case study ‘Ebro Delta’ in Spain as part of the European sixth framework project ‘Floodsite’. First, a typology for flood hazards is developed based on individual and/or stakeholders’ judgements. Awareness, worry and preparedness are the three characteristics that typify a community to reflect various levels of ignorance, perceived security, perceived control or desired risk reduction. Applying ‘worry’ as the central characteristic, a trade-off is hypothesized between Worry and the benefits groups in society receive from a risky situation. Second, this trade-off is applied in Spatial Multi-Criteria Analysis (SMCA). MCA is the vehicle that often accompanies participatory processes, where governmental bodies have to decide on issues in which local stakeholders have a say. By using risk perception-scores as weights in a standard MCA procedure a new decision framework for risk assessment is developed. Finally, the case of sea-level rise in the Ebro Delta in Spain serves as an illustration of the applied methodology. Risk perception information has been collected with help of an on-site survey. Risk perception enters the multi-criteria analysis as complementary weights for the criteria risk and benefit. The results of the survey are applied to a set of scenarios representing both sea-level rise and land subsidence for a time span of 50 years. Land use alternatives have been presented to stakeholders in order to provide the regional decision maker with societal preferences for handling risk. Even with limited resources a characteristic ‘risk profile’ could be drawn that enables the decision maker to develop a suitable land use policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-322
JournalNatural hazards
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Flood risk
  • Risk perception
  • Psychometric paradigm
  • Spatial multi-criteria analysis
  • Land use
  • Sea-level rise
  • Risk-benefit tradeoff


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