How to stop people entering floodwater

People continue to enter floodwater in vehicles and on foot, despite many knowing the risks.

Researchers from the Bushfire Natural Hazards CRC and Risk Frontiers, Macquarie University, analysed the who, when and why of flood fatalities, so they could target information to high-risk groups and hopefully prevent further deaths.

Of the 1,859 deaths due to floods from 1900 to 2015, 79 per cent were male, almost half of whom were attempting to cross a bridge, road, or similar.

“People think they’re in a big car that’s built to drive through floodwaters,” says research leader Dr Katharine Haynes.

“Often, they don’t realise that the road may be washed away, there could be lots of debris in the water, or it’s flowing deeper and faster than it looks.”

Fatalities in vehicles, particularly four-wheel drives, increased sharply during the last 20 years, and a high number occurred when visibility was poor—at twilight or night-time.

“Aside from better education, this highlights the need for structural measures like better signage, lighting and road design, as some people are unaware that they are entering floodwater until its too late,” Katharine says.

Their research is informing the latest safety campaign from the NSW State Emergency Service. New funding from the CRC will also help them investigate the best way to tailor information to target groups.

“A one-size-fits-all risk communication approach doesn’t work,” Katharine says.

“The most effective material is developed with people at risk themselves, so we’re going to work with those groups and put people in a room, give them different sorts of risk communication, run them through realistic disaster scenarios, and see how they behave.”

(Credit: Country Fire Authority)

Banner image credit: Country Fire Authority

For more information:

Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC
Nathan Maddock
+61 3 9412 9602