Extreme weather events are becoming more common and intense. Earlier research on natural hazards and climate change adaptation has found that demographic and socioeconomic factors influence the way individuals prepare for and are affected by natural hazards. These factors typically include educational attainment, employment status, income, gender and age.
However, research often focuses on areas with high exposure and vulnerability. Do the same principles apply in low exposure and vulnerability contexts?
In the beginning of 2019, a severe winter storm hit Northern Europe. Wind speed records were broken, and 120 000 households suffered from power outages. After the storm, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and The Finnish National Rescue Association conducted an internet survey on storm preparedness and experienced impacts.
More than 1000 responses were received, most of them from Ostrobothnia, the region worst affected by the storm. We used the data to examine which factors contribute to how Finns prepared for and were affected by the storm.
Our results show that socioeconomic factors seem to have limited influence on storm experiences. Specifically, respondents' education level or employment status do not seem to play a part. Instead, the rural-urban divide and type of dwelling were significant factors in storm preparedness and experienced impacts.
First, respondents living in detached houses were more likely to prepare for the storm. For example, they reserved water and food for a few days, moved cars to safer locations, and readied their flashlights and generators to prepare for a power outage.
Second, those living in a rural area were more likely to experience harm. This reflects the fact that rural areas often have overhead power lines, which are exposed to falling trees. In urban areas power lines are usually located underground. In conclusion, urban infrastructure may provide a buffer against harm caused by extreme weather events, presumably to a certain point.
However, preparing for power outages is more difficult in apartment buildings. There is often less storage space for emergency kit and extra food supply, no backup source of water or a fireplace. Further research is needed on how urban residents would cope in more extreme circumstances, and on how the impacts from other extreme weather events are distributed.
The results question whether common climate risk and vulnerability assessment approaches are valid in low-vulnerability context. The assessments are often based on socio-economic indices, but our results suggest that socioeconomic factors are not specifically linked to vulnerability in Finland – at least not in the way that is commonly seen in high-vulnerability, high-exposure contexts.
You can read the full paper “The influence of socioeconomic factors on storm preparedness and experienced impacts in Finland” by Maija Nikkanen, Aleksi Räsänen and Sirkku Juhola in International Journal for Disaster Risk Reduction (open access).
The research was funded by the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation.