Social Perceptions of Flash Floods and Motivations for Protective Action Behavior: A Case Study of the 2013 Flash Floods in Uttarakhand, Noth India

S. Arlikatti, M. K. Lindell

Flash floods are some of the most dangerous weather-related disasters, as they are involuntary risks where individuals are unaware of the onset of the event, have not chosen to associate with the event, and have no control over how the event will affect them (Knocke & Kolivra 2007, pp. 159). Consequently people’s immediate response is very likely to determine whether they survive the event. Unfortunately, there is nonexistent literature on this topic in developing countries of the world where official flash flood warning systems are lacking. This study funded by a NSF-RAPID grant aims to fill this gap using variables from the Protective Action Decision Model to guide data collection about 316 villagers’ responses to the June 17th flash-floods in Uttarakhand, India. Seeing the flash flood coming (37.3%), understanding that torrential rains would cause flash flooding (23.1%), and observing unusual changes in the mountains (5.4%) were people’s primary environmental cues. However, the results show most respondents received their first information about the flood from social sources such as friends, family and other villagers (45.9%) and themselves (42.1%), rather than from the mass media. The content of these warnings included what the threat was (82%) and what actions to take (49%). Most respondents reported their homes were either moderately damaged (14.6%), severely damaged (25.0%), or completely destroyed (48.4%), but only 9.2% had a family member killed or injured. These findings clearly demonstrate that although over 98% villagers had never experienced a flash flood in the past 10 years, their social perceptions motivated them to take adequate protective actions that saved the lives of their families and themselves. Despite a lack of a well-established flash flood warning system or educational campaigns and assistance from the government and the mass-media, these villagers’ traditional knowledge about their environment helped them survive.