Community Vulnerability to Tropical Cyclones: Cairns, 1996–2000
Author: Anderson-Berry, L.J.
Source: Natural Hazards, Volume 30, Number 2, October 2003 , pp. 209-232(24)
This paper is a partial discussion of a four-year study that investigated the vulnerability of the people living in the Cairns region to the tropical cyclone hazard. The longitudinal case study, focussing on the Cairns Northern Beaches area, was unique in that it included a social and societal `pre-cyclone impact' evaluation of various resident communities within the region, and then two consecutive `post-cyclone impact' studies. The primary research method supported an inductive qualitative approach to the collection and analysis of survey data. Some quantitative methods were invoked to support qualitative research findings. Survey data was collected in five separate questionnaire-based social surveys that were administered between 1996 and 2000. During the study, residents experienced the direct impact of two land-falling tropical cyclones. In addition to this, targeted and focussed tropical cyclone awareness education was made increasingly available within the community. The social and demographic attributes that influence the individual's perception of risk and contribute to our understanding of community vulnerability were examined and evaluated. Changes in the residents' attitudes, cyclone preparedness behaviours and willingness to respond to cyclone warnings were monitored and measured. Analysis of early survey data indicated that community residents generally had some knowledge of cyclones but a limited understanding of cyclone processes and very little direct personal experience of the cyclone hazard. Individually and collectively, residents frequently demonstrated a biased perception of the risks associated with cyclones. The resident community was shown to be fragmented, with limited support being available to individual households. Initially, residents were found to be poorly prepared for cyclones and unlikely to respond to warnings appropriately. It appeared that, in the event of a land-falling tropical cyclone impacting the area, the community was highly vulnerable to unnecessary loss of property, livelihood and – in extreme circumstances – life. By 2000, Cairns community residents were somewhat better informed about cyclones and certainly more experienced. This paper provides some insight into how cyclone experience and education may synergisticly have contributed to a change in risk perceptions and a reduction in the vulnerability of Cairns residents to the tropical cyclone and storm surge hazards.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Centre for Disaster Studies, James Cook University, Cairns, PO Box 6811, Cairns, Qld. 4878 Australia E-mail: Linda.Anderson-Berry@jcu.edu.au
Publication date: October 2003