A Strategic Research Workshop on
The Social Dimensions of the Flood of the Century
Karen R. Grant, Ph.D.
University of Manitoba
November 17, 1997
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Table of Contents
Background to the Workshop
The Recommendations to the Task
I. What To Do for the Next Flood?
A. Flood Forecasting and Information Resources
B. Assistance to Local Government Officials
C. During the Flood
D. During the Evacuation Period
E. Flood Assistance in the Recovery Period
F. Future Flood Preparedness Activities
II. Research on the Social Dimensions of the 1997 and Flooding in the Red
III. The Task Force Report
Summarizing the Discussions
of the Workshop
The Gap Between Perception and Experience
Sources of Expertise in Basin
The Need to Create a Disaster Subculture
Floods and Loss
Understanding the Politics of Floods
At the request of the International Red River Basin Task Force, a strategic
workshop was convened on November 14, 1997 at the University of
Manitoba. This report
provides an overview of the goals of the workshop and
summarizes the deliberations of the
individuals who participated in it.
Particular emphasis is placed on the participants'
recommendations to the Task
Force for measures to be taken in anticipation of the next
flood, and for
research that is needed on the social dimensions of the 1997 flood.
On May 5, 1997, the governments of Canada and the United States agreed that a
Force, appointed under a directive of the International Joint Commission,
"examine and report on the causes and effects of damaging floods in
the Red River
basin" and "make recommendations on means to reduce,
mitigate and prevent harm
from future flooding in the Red River basin."
Over the last few months, the Task
Force has been gathering preliminary data,
largely of a technical nature, to inform its
work. The Task Force has also
conducted some consultations with people in the basin, which
the significant ways in which individuals and families and home-
business-owners have been affected by the flood.
This workshop brought together a group of Canadian and U.S. researchers and
providers to explore and develop strategic recommendations on how to
address the social
dimensions of the 1997 flood. As detailed in the
recommendations that follow, there is a
clear need for systematic and
comprehensive research into the various social dimensions of
the flood. As
well, there are many steps that should be taken by various levels of
in both countries, by non-governmental organizations providing services in
basin and by individuals residing in the basin to ensure that the damage of
(and similar disasters) can be minimized to the greatest extent
This workshop was by invitation only, with the participants chosen primarily on
basis of their experience during the 1997 flood (for example, as flood
victims or service
providers) and/or their expertise as social scientists
working in the area of disaster
research. An effort was made to achieve some
parity between Canadian and U.S. participants
(though a snow storm south of
Winnipeg the night before the workshop meant that four U.S.
their plans to attend). Given that the workshop was intended to propose
parameters of a social research agenda, there were more academic researchers
than community-based individuals.
The following individuals participated in the day-long workshop:
Professor Tom Booth, Department of Botany, University of Manitoba
Dr. Booth is a member of the Disaster Research Institute and has been
involved in studies of disasters in Brazil. He is interested in
the links between the
social and environmental aspects of disasters. He and
his family were evacuated during the
Professor Jerry Buckland, Director of the International Development Studies
Menno Simons College, University of Winnipeg
Dr. Buckland has been doing research on how communities responded to the 1997
southern Manitoba (with Dr. Rahman).
Professor J.M. (Jack) Bumsted, Department of History and Director of the
the Humanities, University of Manitoba
Dr. Bumsted is the only flood historian in Canada. He has previously published
book-length monograph on the 1950 flood and has a new book soon to be
Susan Goyer, Re-entry Coordinator, North Ritchot Restoration Committee
Ms Goyer was one of many residents flooded in the basin (in 1996 and 1997).
experience, along with her training in family financial counselling
and family studies,
positioned her to take on the task of assisting
approximately 500 families in North
Ritchot in their resettlement and
recovery following the 1997 flood.
Professor Karen R. Grant, Department of Sociology, and Associate Dean
Faculty of Arts, University of Manitoba
Dr. Grant is a health sociologist whose research focuses on women's health. Her
research, with Dr. Higgitt, focuses on women's experiences of the
flood, with a particular
emphasis on the role that women play as
"health guardians" in the home.
Professor John Gray, Department of Economics, University of Manitoba
Dr. Gray is an economist specializing in public finance and resource economics.
interested in the economic dimensions of the flood and would like to
methodology used in the 1958 Royal Commission on Flood
Cost-Benefit, in order to assess
its use in regards to the 1997 flood.
Professor C. Emdad Haque, Department of Geography, Brandon University
Dr. Haque is interested in human adjustments to disasters, including floods. He
previously conducted disaster research in Manitoba (floods and
droughts) and Bangladesh
(floods). He is currently conducting research on
emergency preparedness among first
Professor Nancy C. Higgitt, Department of Family Studies, University of
Dr. Higgitt is a sociologist interested families and shelter environments, as
the needs of vulnerable populations. She has previously conducted
research on family
resettlement of refugees and low-income family mobility.
She is currently conducting
research with Dr. Grant on women's experiences
of the 1997 flood.
Ray Hopke, Director of Emergency Social Services, Department of Family
Government of Manitoba
Mr. Hopke works in cooperation with various agencies throughout the province in
coordination and provision of social services during emergencies.
Valeriah Hwacha, Director of the Disaster Response Planning Project, Salvation
Ms Hwacha is interested in vulnerable populations in disasters (e.g., women
children, first nations people). She is also interested in community
two areas are the focus of her M.A. thesis which is
nearing completion and her work with
the Salvation Army.
David LeMarquand, Advisor to the International Red River Basin Task Force
Toni Morris-Oswald, Graduate Student, Natural Resources Institute, University
Ms. Morris-Oswald is currently conducting research on the psychosocial impacts
flood of 1997.
Matiur Rahman, Research Associate of the Disaster Research Institute,
Dr. Rahman is interested in examining, from a comparative perspective, how
responded to the flood. Previously, he has done extensive
research on the human impacts of
flooding in Bangladesh.
Professor Harun Rasid, Department of Geography, Lakehead University
Dr. Rasid is currently conducting research on lay preferences for flood
measures. Previously, he had conducted experimental surveys on
lay preferences in
Bangladesh and China. He spent part of this past summer
conducting similar surveys in
Manitoba and North Dakota.
Angela Sawh, Coordinator, International Services, Canadian Red Cross Society
Ms Sawh is responsible for the coordination for response and preparedness
Professor Slobodan Simonovic, Member of the International Red River Basin Task
Professor in the Department of Civil and Geological Engineering and
Director of the
Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba
Dr. Simonovic's research interest is in modelling water resources
current research involves developing criteria based on
social and environmental impacts of
the flood that can be employed in
Professor Brian Stimpson, Department of Civil and Geological Engineering,
Dr. Stimpson is a specialist in the stability of rock structures in mining.
however, he has been teaching engineering students about the
various social impacts of
Professor Robert W. Tait, Department of Psychology, and Acting Director of the
Research Institute, University of Manitoba
Dr. Tait is interested in the short- and long-term psychosocial impacts of
the organizational styles of management involved in tactical
Kate White, President of Black and White Communications and Member of the
National Committee of the International Decade for Natural
Ms White has been involved in research on disasters for some time, and her
interest is risk perception. She has developed the "RISK
& Society" Schools
Project which examines children's perceptions
of risk. She is also interested in the
economic and psychosocial dimensions
of recovery from natural disasters.
Larry Whitney, Member of the International Red River Basin Task Force and
the Water Resources Branch of Manitoba Natural Resources
Professor Raymond Wiest, Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba
Dr. Wiest, a research associate of the Disaster Research Institute, has
studies on disasters in Bangladesh, Mexico and Brazil. He is
particularly interested in
the impacts of disasters on families,
particularly women and children.
Bruce Carlson, Economist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Mr. Carlson is providing support to U.S. members of the International Red River
Task Force. He has extensive experience in flood damage reduction. He
is also interested
in environmental restoration in the wake of floods.
Professor Jay Leitch, Member of the International Red River Basin Task Force
and Dean of
the College of Business, North Dakota State University
Dr. Leitch is a resource economist who has done flood cost-benefit studies in
and in the Red River basin.
Mary Fran Myers, Co-Director, Natural Hazards Research and Applications
Center, University of Colorado
Ms Myers is interested in research comparing the flood damage reduction
Canada and the U.S.
Professor Wanda Olson, Department of Design, Housing and Apparel, University
Dr. Olson is a specialist in housing technology. She is involved in applied
housing and, through the Minnesota Extension Service, is
developing educational materials
to assist health and housing professionals
to deal with the problems of molds in homes in
Professor George O'Neill, University of North Dakota School of Medicine
Dr. O'Neill is a social psychologist whose interests in disasters derive from
personal experience of Hurricane Hugo. Subsequently, he was a disaster
responder for the Red Cross, and he staffed the Oklahoma City
Hotline for children and
parents. He has since conducted research on the
psychological impacts of disasters on
Professor Kit O'Neill, Department of Psychology at North Dakota State
Dr. O'Neill is interested in predictors of psychological distress in
disasters, as well as the long-term psychological
consequences of disasters. She is a
volunteer for the American Red Cross,
and teaches a course for the Society on disaster
mental health services.
The four other individuals not able to attend the workshop were: Jim Belles,
National Weather Service; Barbara Kramer, Northeast Social Services
Center; Dave Loss,
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Janell Regimbal, Lutheran
The specific objectives of this strategic research workshop were to:
identify lessons that have been learned from the 1997 flood;
determine goals (short- and long-term) for research into the social dimensions
identify data requirements for social research on the flood;
develop a strategic plan for the coordination and conduct of a bi-lateral
make recommendations for action by the Task Force, specifically related to
the social dimensions and impacts of the flood, and related to
future flood mitigation
strategies in the Red River basin.
Objectives 3 and 4 could not be fully realized in the course of a day-long
In working toward achieving the other objectives, members of the workshop
reflected on issues such as:
What happened to the people in the basin?
How did people in the affected areas perceive their risk of flooding? how did
perceptions influence their actions? what were the consequences in
terms of their
adaptation and recovery?
What measures were taken on behalf of people in the basin before, during and
flood? what indicators do we have of the success or failure of
these measures (in the
short- and long-term)?
What should be done in the future by governments and other organizations to
the threat of floods?
As a way of organizing our discussions, we considered three distinct, but
periods that occur during any flood; i.e., the pre-flood/preparatory
phase, the flood
phase and the post-flood/recovery and resettlement phase.
Reference was also made to what
is commonly referred to as "the disaster
cycle" (or spiral) in our discussions.
Finally, we noted the importance of
keeping the perception of scale (i.e., global
disasters, community disasters,
individual disasters) in mind as we considered what needs
to be done by
individuals and governments.
As detailed in the recommendations that follow, there are several points at
interventions might be made to reduce the adverse effects of flooding in
Similarly, there is much research that can and should be done on
the 1997 Red River flood,
and flooding in the basin in general.
A number of recommendations were put forward by workshop participants. These
in broad categories.
Flood Forecasting and Information
Forecasting water levels needs to be improved so that forecasts are believable.
related to fostering a "trusted voice" in all
aspects of flood
There is a need for better communication between flood forecasters and local
and decision-makers. (The degree to which this was a problem
may vary by locale. For
example, this may have been less of a problem in
Winnipeg than in parts of rural Manitoba
and in North Dakota.)
The Task Force should explore the feasibility of unifying forecasting systems
the U.S. and Canada. (Some participants noted that this is likely
impossible, given the
differences in governance structures. Nevertheless,
greater cooperation between Canadian
and U.S. forecasters might assist
populations in the affected areas, and facilitate flood
Forecasting information must be made accessible to the public. By accessible,
that the information must be communicated to all individuals likely
to be affected by
flooding, in a form which is understandable to them
(i.e., in plain English, and in other
languages, depending on the
ethnocultural background of individuals in the affected
areas), and which
they can implement. It may be useful for forecasters (and flood
to liaise with agencies which specialize in the translation of technical
language into accessible forms for laypersons.
Structures and the corresponding technical and support staff should be put in
the long-term to help in the dissemination of flood information
information. (Information services or branches of
governments may provide useful models.)
Such services should work to
determine: Who needs what information? How should that
communicated to those needing it? As well, such services should determine
how best to ensure that recipients of information know how to use it.
In addition to the information services noted in (A.5.), there should be clear
information on who all of the "information brokers" are in a flood
These resources and their contact coordinates should be made
publicly available to all
individuals residing in affected areas. One
possible option is to establish an information
hotline which can serve as
an information broker for individuals requiring information
Information is needed before the flood on how to recover from the flood.
Assistance to Local Government Officials
Municipal leaders should be brought together to assess what happened in the
1997 flood -
to have a dialogue about what worked well, and what did not
work. Lessons learned from the
1997 flood should be used to inform future
Municipal leaders should be fully informed about municipal by-laws relevant to
preparations and relevant fiscal matters.
There is a need to establish a "trusted voice" in local government in
phases of a flood emergency. It is, therefore, necessary that municipal
provided with the personnel, resources and expertise that will
be needed to fight a flood.
(Most rural municipal governments involve few
paid staff and some volunteer staff.) It
should be remembered that, during
a flood, many municipal government leaders and workers
will also be
fighting the flood on their own properties.
While respecting the autonomy of local governments, flood authorities
should undertake to
ensure that municipal leaders and workers have access
to information and resources so that
they can carry out their official
duties related to the flood. Such measures would go a
toward re-establishing (or establishing) trust in local officials.
Before the flood, there is a need to establish a clear chain of command. The
command should be clearly indicated to all officials and all
residents in the basin.
It is necessary to identify who are the decision-makers in local jurisdictions
throughout the valley. Workshops should be held to provide them with
decision-making related to flood management. (It is important
that such workshops also
include individuals who were not involved in
government/civic leadership roles so that
this type of knowledge can be
disseminated more broadly.)
In the post-flood stage, re-entry coordinators should be drawn from local
Their prior knowledge of the individuals and culture of their
community will make their
various tasks related to resettlement and
recovery of residents easier. (This will also
assist in empowering
individuals and communities.)
Community leaders should be identified and engaged in activities to assist in
resettlement and future disaster planning.
During the Flood
There should be a flood plan, fully articulated in advance, and it should be
The military should be brought in to assist in flood-fighting at the earliest
Flood managers and service providers need to understand that there are many
warnings. Not everyone will perceive risks in the same
Municipal governments must ensure access to sand and sandbags and coordinate
the maximal benefit of individuals engaged in flood-fighting.
(The same is true
regarding the coordination of volunteers, if this is
being carried out by local
Accessible and practical information on building dikes should be provided to
in affected areas, as well as to contractors working in those
There is a need for consistency in the mandate and operation of checkpoints
flood. This is important both for residents and personnel staffing
the checkpoints. (There
are reports of individuals needing to get into
their properties and facing inconsistencies
in how they were processed
through the checkpoints.)
During the Evacuation Period
There is a need to develop plans for large-scale evacuation. (In Manitoba, some
people were evacuated. If the evacuation had been larger, was a plan
Residents in the floodplain must have consistent information regarding
Evacuation plans should include assessments of expectations regarding property
(including livestock, farm equipment, etc.) and human lives. The feasibility
of evacuation should be done with all of these factors in
Consideration should be given to selective evacuation in the basin. (There have
several reports of individuals wanting to resist evacuation, but being
forced to leave
their properties, only to discover that their absence
contributed to pump failures, and
therefore breaches of dikes. In some
cases, it is likely that properties would have been
saved if individuals
had been left to monitor their own properties.) Accordingly, it is
necessary to determine who should be required to leave, and who can be
permitted to stay,
and under what conditions.
Retention of communities in evacuation may be very important for some
individuals sharing a common cultural heritage or
language). Keeping communities together
during the evacuation period may
also facilitate the communication of flood information.
There is a need for procedures to help track individuals who have been
Red Cross had information only on people who registered.)
Debriefing of individuals involved in evacuation should be a high priority
care workers, social workers, etc.).
Flood Assistance in the Recovery Period
Assistance needs to be made available to individuals so that they can move out
recovery mode. This is essential now, so that these same individuals
residing in the
floodplain can prepare for the next flood, possibly in
1998. (It should be remembered that
many individuals affected by the 1997
flood were also flooded in 1996. The cumulative
disruptions and losses they
have experienced are likely to be considerable, and thus may
flood preparations for 1998 that much more onerous.)
Help should be provided to the helpers. This is especially important for
involved in re-entry work who may require assistance and
supports, both material as well
as psychosocial. (The Red Cross has
debriefing programs which may be a useful model to
adopt or adapt.)
A centralized database system containing the addresses/locations of properties
businesses, land elevations, diking information, etc. in the basin most
flooding should be established and properly resourced.
A database with this type of
information would make it possible for
flood managers and service providers to know what
individuals are where,
their flood histories and flood protection measures. This type of
would also greatly ease the flood relief process, as well as recovery and
resettlement of individuals, livestock and businesses. This centralized
not insignificantly, reduce costs and increase
efficiencies, lessen the emotional burden
experienced by flood victims who
have had to provide the same information to multiple
agencies and relief
organizations and may also reduce fraud. (There are many models of
centralized registries that can be examined. Current computer systems allow for
creation of databases that ensure security of information, and offer
ease in use.)
In keeping with the recommendation for a centralized registry, a case
or team approach should be put in place to assist flood
victims in the post-flood recovery
period. Such a system should involve all
key stakeholders and agencies providing services
and relief to flood
victims. Agencies involved in the case management system should have
to the centralized registry in order to facilitate flood relief/compensation
other aspects of resettlement and recovery. (One way to think of these
case managers is as
"Disaster Recovery SWAT Teams.")
There should be coordination of agencies involved in the provision of services.
There should be coordination of agencies involved in assessing properties (this
to orders to tear down versus restore homes, and the bureaucratic
entanglements that may
follow if agency representatives disagree).
Plans for re-settlement should be made in light of the causes of the disaster.
Wherever possible, disaster proneness should be reduced within the context of
development. Accordingly, it is necessary that an environment of
mitigation take into
consideration economic factors, environmental
conditions, and human needs, desires and
Future Flood Preparedness Activities
Flood/disaster preparedness should be fully integrated into school curricula.
necessary that efforts be put in place to train people to cope.
The best place to
start such a process is with children, by helping them to
understand a "disaster
For 1998, it is particularly important that teachers and students be given
the anniversary of the 1997 flood approaches. This should be
coupled with curriculum
related to flood preparedness.
Individuals in the valley should be fully apprised of changing rules related to
preparedness, and especially flood relief and compensation.
Communities, provinces and states should do pre-disaster planning for
The Task Force should make explicit what are the social dimensions of the
this, research into the social dimensions should be
The Task Force should specifically examine the implications of devolution on
flood-fighting efforts in the valley. The effects on local governments as well
forecasting should be studied, with remedies proposed.
The Task Force should recommend to the International Joint Commission the
of a standardized methodology for tabulating the direct costs
and losses of the 1997
flood, and flooding in the basin in general.
The Task Force should investigate the indirect costs and losses associated with
flood, so that these can be incorporated into any standardized
methodology on the costs
and losses associated with floods (see #3 above).
Comparative analyses of past research (in Canada, the U.S., and in Europe)
conducted in order to identify "best practices" that
can be incorporated into
future disaster plans in the basin.
A centralized archive should be created containing information and research on
flood. Funds should be committed to maintain such an archive, to
ensure the preservation
of historical records on this flood and any others
in the future.
Research should be conducted on the following issues:
understanding the nature and extent of vulnerability of the people in the
how do individuals perceive and react to flood information?
what was the effect on individuals of evacuation? did the site of evacuation
recovery (e.g., were those placed in University residences
better off than those placed in
city hotels?)? what was the effect of
the wide disbursal of evacuees in North Dakota?
under what conditions
were cross-border evacuations necessary? what supports were
what are the benefits of occupying flood-prone lands?
what are the economic (and other) benefits of the 1997 flood?
what are the implications of event-driven nature of flood protection policies?
how do floodplain zoning and land-use management affect flooding?
how did charitable organizations do what they did, during the flood?
how did social agencies do what they did, during the flood?
These recommendations for research reflected which individuals were invited
participate in the workshop. As already noted, it is necessary that the Task
articulate as fully as possible the social dimensions of the 1997 flood
(see #1 above).
The following may serve as a useful starting point. A social
impact study should minimally
include examining the following spheres and
What is the impact of the flood on labour force activity/participation?
How were businesses affected by the flood (closures, bankruptcies,
How were businesses affected by disruptions in the transportation sector?
What is the economic impact of reconstruction in the wake of the 1997 flood?
What is the economic impact of flood relief?
What is the prevalence of personal bankruptcy among individuals in the
following the 1996 and 1997 floods?
What is the effect of the flood on financial and retirement planning?
What is the prevalence of conditions such as anxiety, depression, and
conditions amongst individuals in the affected areas?
What is the nature and extent of losses experienced by individuals in the
What is the nature of social supports available to individuals in the affected
what ways did access to social support mediate the stressfulness
of the flood?
What methods of coping were used by individuals to deal with the stressfulness
What was/is the frequency of health care utilization in relation to
effects of the flood?
How have "trauma teams" helped in the re-settlement period?
Physical Health Effects:
What is the prevalence of acute and chronic health conditions attributed to the
and its aftermath?
How do individuals rate their health before, during and after the flood?
What was/is the frequency of health care utilization in relation to physical
effects of the flood?
How did the flood affect internal air quality in homes? in public buildings in
What methods of decontamination were used in the post-flood period? How did
decontamination influence physical and psychological well-being?
What other environmental impacts can be discerned in the affected areas?
What are the variables related to people's decisions not to move out of
How do we account for the effectiveness of people who have flood-proofed their
What is the impact of the flood on family and household units and
What was the effect of displacement on individuals in the affected areas?
How effectively were housing needs accommodated in the evacuation period and
resettlement? What were the housing needs?
How did the flood affect community structures and functions? What was the
effect of the
flood on the sense of "community" in the affected
What was the role of shelters during the evacuation period and after?
How and how often did individuals resist evacuation orders? With what
What was the nature and effectiveness of relief efforts (including that
non-governmental organizations, churches, community groups, the
military, etc.)? how did
this vary before, during and after the flood?
How pervasive is flight out of communities in the floodplain? What is the
effect on the
What is the role of special interest groups during the flood period?
How was risk communicated to, and understood by, individuals in the affected
What was the role of the media in communicating flood information (comparing
media, radio, television, and internet sites)?
Each of these, and other questions, should be included as part of a
bi-national investigation of the social impacts of the 1997
Members of the workshop are keenly aware of how public events, such as the 1997
lead to the establishment of commissions of inquiry. Regrettably, some
are perceived to be politicized, and the result is the
reports merely collect dust in
government offices and public libraries.
Similarly, members of the workshop are aware that
there are many commissions
investigating the 1997 Red River flood. In order to make this
Task Force report
most effective, we recommend:
That the Task Force thoroughly review what has been learned from past
inquiry on floods in the valley, with a view toward
establishing recommendations to the
Canadian and U.S. governments and the
International Joint Commission that will be acted
upon. A review of past
reports and commissions may help to clarify how this Task Force can
the kinds of remedial actions that are necessary for future flood-fighting
activities and plans.
That the Task Force give consideration to what will happen if nothing is done,
the light of its recommendations.
As should be evident from this lengthy list of recommendations, there was a
broad-based discussion of many aspects of the social dimensions of the
1997 flood. Many of
the recommendations dealing with practices and processes
followed in the 1997 flood
suggest research questions for consideration by the
Task Force and researchers.
In addition to these specific recommendations, workshop participants engaged in
exchanges about the central problems posed by the 1997 flood. The
subjects of these
discussions are summarized below.
The Gap Between Perception and Experience
Based on the
experience of flood victims, as reported by individuals in the
flooded area, and as
reported by researchers who have conducted interviews in
the basin, there is a gap between
perception and reality. Public perception
during the flood suggested, for example, good
communication with individuals in
the flooded area, a chain of command in the disaster
plan, the effectiveness of
the construction of dikes and other infrastructure, flood
forecasting, etc. Not
everyone in the affected areas felt that sufficient planning had
pro-actively. Instead, some residents felt that flood managers were in
reactive mode during the flood. Similarly, people in the basin did not
fully informed. Questions continue to be asked about decisions
made regarding manipulation
of the floodgates on the Red River Floodway, the
building and effectiveness of the
Brunkild Dike, the implications of blocking
Sources of Expertise in the Basin
The flood of 1997, like
other floods and disasters, was managed by a large
number of experts, many of whom have
technical training in fields such as water
resources management and engineering. There is
no question about the important
role that such individuals played in controlling and/or
managing this flood.
Several members of the workshop noted, however, that other expertise
the valley - among those who reside and work in the valley - and this
is seldom tapped to the degree that it should be in developing and
executing a disaster
plan. At the heart of this issue is the difference between
lay and expert knowledge, and
the politics of incorporating non-expert
knowledge into management decisions. This issue
is not unique to the field of
disasters. The consequence of excluding or subordinating lay
decision-making that affects so many people is that it may produce
that place people and property at risk, and undermine efforts to
prevent and control
The prevailing approach tends to focus on "top-down" decision-making.
suggested that there is a need for "bottom-up" decision-making
Decision-making must be facilitated at the lowest level, to assist
people in all phases of
Related to this, it must be recognized that the success of future mitigation
will depend on engaging the people affected in the flood-fighting
effort. Putting some
control in their own hands, as a form of empowerment, is
an important vehicle for
community development and disaster mitigation. This is
a tried and true strategy used
internationally in various fields (notably,
public health). Increasing community capacity
can only help in any future
flood-fighting efforts. Involving communities in flood
management will assist
them to make informed decisions in the future.
It was suggested that social scientists may be able to help bridge the gap
and expert knowledge by developing models that incorporate
different perspectives and
approaches. Clearly, managers/decision-makers need
to learn how to incorporate different
types of knowledge into their planning.
Public consultation is one way in which this can
occur. As the Task Force does
its work and prepares its reports, it should keep in mind
the expertise in the
basin. Individuals want and need their knowledge to be respected and
The Need to Create a Disaster Subculture
Hannigan and Kueneman
(1978: 131) refer to Moore's description of a disaster
subculture (1964) as "those
adjustments, actual and potential, social,
psychological and physical, which are used by
residents of such areas to cope
with disasters which have struck or which tradition
indicates may strike in the
future." They note that like any subculture, one defined
in relation to
disasters is characterized by "norms, values, beliefs, knowledge,
technology, which take specific disaster subcultural forms." Many
aspects of our
discussions focused on understanding the particular disaster
subcultures in the valley
(there is not one, but many, such subcultures,
reflecting where and among whom people
In order to manage future disasters, it is important that there be
understanding at all
levels of the nature of the disaster subcultures that
exist, and how these affect people's
expectations and responses to an impending
disaster. Understanding the subculture is key,
as well, to any educational
interventions designed to reduce future vulnerabilities in the
As well, it is important that flood managers understand how their decisions
the disaster subcultures in the basin. There have been reports of
individuals living in the basin (including, but not
limited to, Premier Filmon's remark
that individuals need to take
responsibility for living in the floodplain, and Mayor Susan
of the bell to indicate the flood was over, when many evacuees in
Manitoba had not yet been returned to their homes, much less restored their
and businesses to pre-flood conditions). This insensitivity manifests
itself in what some
might call "big city-itis" (that is,
an emphasis on large population
centres to the detriment of smaller
Floods and Loss
There was extensive discussion of the losses
that individuals experience
during floods and disasters (e.g., distress, disruption, loss
of property and
possessions, altered social relationships, experiences of
vulnerability, loss of control, loss of what is
"normal," etc.). Physical
losses are visible; very often social
losses are not. One participant noted that
"floods are about people, not
water." If that is the case, then future disaster
plans must put people
first in every sense.
Understanding the Politics of Floods
There is no denying that
floods are inescapably political in nature. What
measures are taken, when and how are all
decisions of a political nature. This
must be understood in any future research and social
policy related to flooding
in the Red River basin. The problematics of the political
nature of floods must
be explored as part of the solutions that are sought for the basin.
substantial amount of our attention focused on the impact of
populations. It is equally important that attention
be focused on those who made/make
decisions about flood planning, management,
control and prevention. This includes all
levels of government, in both
countries, the tensions and conflicts between various levels
cutbacks and devolution in current government regimes, and all
involved in decision-making related to the 1997 flood.
Revised 4 February 2002
Maintained by: GLRO,