UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering


EPICentre's Professor Rossetto on face-to-face workshops increasing natural disaster preparedness

4 April 2019

Face-to-face workshops based on the psychology of behaviour change and disaster preparedness can be used to prompt households to take action to protect themselves against disasters such as earthquakes, fires and floods, a new UCL-led study has found.

Workshop House

EPICentre, a research group hosted by the UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, was one of the key contributing bodies to the multidisciplinary workshop project. Professor Tiziana Rossetto, CEGE professor of Earthquake Engineering, and founder and co-Director of EPICentre, and member of the project team, said that the workshops are “potentially saving lives by changing people’s preparedness and understanding of natural disasters”. Professor Rossetto explains that “the findings of this research provide us with a unique understanding of behavioural patterns and how we can positively alter an individual’s preparedness for natural disasters. Research such as this is part of the reason I founded EPICentre – to make sure that we are effectively mitigating against disasters like earthquakes, for example. The evidence-based workshops used in the study are easily replicated, meaning we have the opportunity to actively impact lives around the world.”

Read the full UCL News article on the face-to-face workshops below:

Face-to-face workshops increase household preparedness for disaster

The study, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, found that by engaging households in evidence-based, face-to-face workshops, researchers could engineer change in householders’ natural disaster preparedness that would last long term, potentially saving lives.

Although vulnerability to natural disasters is increasing globally, even in high-risk regions few households have measures in place to protect and prepare themselves. Ill-preparedness tends to lead to larger post-disaster losses and greater loss of life, injury and displacement.

“There is evidence that even small measures can save countless lives,” says Professor Helene Joffe (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences), leader of the study.

“Being prepared for multiple hazards makes households more resilient, especially given that hazards can occur simultaneously or in rapid sequence, such as the recent cyclones followed by floods in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.”

UCL researchers and their local counterparts ran workshops to empower people to make small household adjustments to prepare for disasters, such as securing TVs, computers and cabinets to the walls and ensuring objects are not placed above beds regarding protection from earthquakes. They also showed the importance of keeping exits clear of obstruction and having functioning smoke detectors and in-date fire extinguishers, regarding fire protection.

The workshops were comprised of two three-hour training sessions, after which the researchers observed whether households had adopted disaster preparedness behaviours. Half of the households in the sample were given the training, and half were not.

“We found that behavioural changes were most likely where there was home ownership and high outcome expectancy – that is, when individuals had a sense of agency and believed their actions would have an effect, they were more likely to make changes,” says Professor Joffe.

“An unintended consequence of the study was that even the control group – which did not receive training – improved its preparedness behaviour. This suggests that when risk-related behaviours are simply being observed, householders will change their behaviours to become more prepared.”

Professor Joffe concludes that face-to-face training, or even simply home observations, by external sources such as a fire department, could be a way to ensure that measures are put in place by householders across a population to prepare for natural disasters. The very idea of a disaster being ‘natural’ obscures how much humans can do to protect themselves from such events.


The study in Nature Human Behaviour
Professor Helene Joffe's academic profile


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