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Discussion papers | Copyright
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2018-183
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 26 Jun 2018

Research article | 26 Jun 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS).

Communicating public avalanche warnings – what works?

Rune V. Engeset1,2, Gerit Pfuhl1, Markus Landrø1,2, Andrea Mannberg1, and Audun Hetland1 Rune V. Engeset et al.
  • 1UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Hansine Hansens veg 18, 9019 Tromsø, Norway
  • 2Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate, Oslo, Box 5091 MAJ., 0301, Oslo, Norway

Abstract. Like many other mountainous countries, Norway has experienced a rapid increase in both recreational winter activities, and fatalities, in avalanche terrain during the past few decades: during the decade 2008–2017, 64 recreational avalanche fatalities were recorded in Norway. This is a 106% increase from that of the previous decade. In 2013, Norway therefore launched the National Avalanche Warning Service (NAWS), which provide avalanche warnings to transport and preparedness authorities, and to the public. Previous studies suggest that avalanche warnings are used extensively in trip and preparedness planning, and have a relatively strong influence on the decisions people are taking in order to reduce risk. However, no evaluation, concerning how efficiently the warnings are communicated and understood, has been done to date. Avalanche warnings communicate complex natural phenomena, with a variable complexity and level of uncertainty about both the future and the present. In order to manage avalanche risk successfully, it is fundamental that the warning message can be understood and translated into practice by a wide range of different user groups. Less avalanche-competent users may need simple information to decide when to stay away from avalanche terrain, while professional users may need advanced technical details in order to make their decisions. To evaluate how different modes of communication are understood, and how efficiently the informational content is communicated, we designed and implemented a web-based user survey. The modes of presentation were based on the Varsom.no 2017-version (Varsom.no being the national portal for natural hazards warnings in Norway). We first asked a panel of experts from NAWS to answer the survey, and used their answers to establish the indented comprehension of the avalanche warning. We thereafter recruited over 200 recreational users, and compared their answers to those of the experts for the different modes of communication. Our empirical analyses suggest that most users find the warning service to be useful and well suited for their needs. However, the effectiveness of a warnings seems to be influenced by the competency of the user and the complexity of the scenarios. We discuss the findings and make recommendations on how to improve communication of avalanche warnings.

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Short summary
The Norwegian Avalanche Warning Service was launched in 2013, in order to stop the rapid increase in avalanche fatalities (previously, Norway had no public avalanche warnings). Avalanche warnings are used extensively in trip and preparedness planning, and have a relatively strong influence on the decisions people are taking in order to reduce risk. This study address how efficiently the warnings are communicated on the national web portal for natural hazards, Varsom.no.
The Norwegian Avalanche Warning Service was launched in 2013, in order to stop the rapid...
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