The Social Context of Flood Risk in Alberta: Perspectives from Municipal Planners, Insurance Agents, the General Public and Media Sources

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  • This project report contains research conducted by senior undergraduate students in a
    university capstone course, from January to April, 2021. The course invites students to
    conduct original research as an integrative experience for a degree in the Faculty of
    Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, University of Alberta. All student authors were
    completing their degrees in Environment and Conservation Sciences, with majors in Human
    Dimensions, Environmental Economics and Policy, or Environmental Studies. At the
    beginning of each chapter, the names of student authors are listed. The final report was
    modified by the editors for clarity and consistency.
    This research is focused on the social context of flood risk in Alberta, with an
    emphasis on understanding the evolving challenges of urban residential flooding. This interest
    arose from interactions with faculty members at the University of Alberta, representatives
    from TD Insurance and researchers at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, who were
    focused on understanding why homeowners in urban areas are not implementing measures on
    their properties to reduce the risk and impacts from stormwater flood events. Challenges
    homeowners face include the increasing frequency of surface flooding and how the media
    reports on these events over time. We also observe divergent perspectives on how to mitigate
    flood risk and who is responsible for these actions. These differences are noted in the
    information gathered from municipal planners and insurance brokers. The social context of
    flood risk also includes public perspectives of flooding and how these perspectives might be
    impacted by recent experiences with flooding and political ideology. Through a better
    understanding of these issues, we hope that key decision makers, such as municipal planners
    and insurance brokers, as well as homeowners, can better understand this social context and
    design programs or undertake activities to assist with flood risk reduction.
    In chapter one, the authors review 37 media articles on flooding in Alberta. Analysis
    indicates that topics in the media were associated with three broad factors: lack of awareness,
    socioeconomic concerns and concern for ongoing flooding. The two most frequently proposed
    solutions to flood risk were homeowners improving their homes to mitigate against flood
    risks or damages, and major infrastructural improvements or developments to withstand flood
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    damages. Results showed that there were more articles that placed the onus on governments to
    do more in both fixing flooding problems and in accepting responsibility for allowing
    flooding to occur in the first place. Researchers also found that climate change is slowly
    starting to become part of the discussion surrounding urban flooding.
    With a focus on municipal planners (i.e., Edmonton, Calgary and St. Albert), chapter 2
    investigates how planners understand flood risk, and their perceptions of collaboration and
    community engagement in flood risk management decision-making processes. Based on 12
    in-depth interviews, this research revealed that there is considerable contention around the
    roles and responsibilities of homeowners, municipalities, and the provincial government. For
    example, there are different perspectives on who should be responsible for overland flooding
    within municipalities, with evolving expectations for governments and homeowners.
    Emerging perspectives on these roles and responsibilities is precipitated by large disaster
    events such as the 2013 fluvial floods in southern Alberta. The chapter also identifies
    emerging approaches to flood mitigation in municipalities, with distinct approaches to new
    versus old neighbourhoods, and ongoing challenges of flood mitigation as it relates to
    municipal versus private land.
    Chapter 3 involves in-depth interviews with 15 insurance brokers who work for TD
    Insurance. These individuals were identified for the students through prior contacts between
    university faculty members and the insurance company. Key questions in this study include
    the following: What do insurance adjusters see as the biggest barriers for customers to invest
    in flood prevention measures for their homes? With these barriers in mind, what can
    insurance companies and local governments do to encourage homeowners to invest in flood
    prevention measures? The largest barrier identified was homeowners not being able to
    understand their insurance policy, and the solutions to these problems centred on educational
    programming that is targeted at homeowners.
    In chapter 4, students shifted their focus to the perspectives of households. By
    comparing survey data from 2007 and 2021, the authors identified shifting patterns of public
    perception. Regarding perceptions of future flood risks, 10% of homeowners in 2021 rated the
    chance of a stormwater flood in the next 10 years as very or somewhat likely. This statistic
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    indicates a drop of 38% in the perception of flood risk when compared to the 2007. his
    statistic compares to 38% in 2007, indicating a drop in the perception of flood risk. Other key
    differences in perception are compared in this study. But authors caution that while such
    differences may be a result of changing perceptions in the general population, they may also
    result from different survey research methods used in the 2007 and 2021 studies.
    Looking more deeply at public perceptions, Chapter 5 introduces the concept of moral
    framing and nudges as a way to understand flood risk through a political lens. The authors
    hypothesized that conservatives are more likely to undertake flood mitigation efforts when
    influenced by authority, loyalty, and sanctity framing. Liberals were expected to be more
    influenced by moral frames such as care, fairness and reciprocity. Although the theory of
    moral framing would suggest these outcomes to be observed in the dataset, results from this
    study show that morally framed statements did not produce statistically significant differences
    between liberal and conservative-oriented respondents. These results may challenge some of
    the thinking behind moral framing theory, but may also indicate some weaknesses in the
    quality of survey data.
    Finally, in chapter 6, students utilize pre-existing national survey data to examine
    differences in perceived versus objective flood risk and its impact on mitigation measures.
    Objective risk was measured using a GIS method of flood risk analysis for the Edmonton
    region. Using multivariate analysis, results indicate that objective risk has no impact on
    perceived risk of basement flooding. This conclusion was counter to that found in Chapter 4
    with the more recent Edmonton homeowner survey. However, the students in this present
    chapter note that several socio-demographic variables are statistically significant in predicting
    perceived risk of basement flooding. These results (and those in Chapter 4) suggest a complex
    interaction between objective and perceived risks

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International