A 2016 Australian survey found that real estate agents ranked 28 out of 30 in the list of professions we trust. That is why I was surprised this month that an education program in the US is targeting real estate agents to inform potential home buyers of an area’s flood risks. They also had a low ranking in a similar 2018 US survey so they are not the group I would expect people to trust when being informed about flooding.
In theory, when a property is being purchased it should be the ideal opportunity to flag flooding as an issue that needs to be considered. However, the house’s proximity to schools, shops and transport is experienced every day while flooding may or may not happen during the next phase of ownership. In fact, many buyers will convince themselves that it won’t happen while they are there because the low probabilities referred to (e.g. 1 in 100) will feed into their natural optimism bias, particularly if there are so many other things to like about a house, such as water views.
Optimism bias is the belief we have that the bad things that happen to people are less likely to happen to me. It is largely at play with other psychological factors when people make decisions not to insure against flooding, not to have an emergency plan, not to evacuate when told to and then to enter floodwaters when advised not to. A recent survey of Townsville residents by James Cook University following the recent floods reveals that a very large part of the community there did not consider flooding to be a risk which they needed to manage. Furthermore, a rise in hospital admissions and several fatalities are evidence of the proportion of the population that think that entering floodwaters is safe.
The contracted waterborne diseases listed by the Townsville Public Health Unit make it clear that flood hazard is not simply a function of depth and velocity and entering floodwaters should be avoided wherever possible.
There was significant flooding across the Pilbara in March but the direct impacts on people were less severe than in Queensland in February, in part because of the sparse population where it flooded. The anticipated 5metre storm surge had no recorded impacts because it occurred where there was no development. However, the indirect impacts will be felt around the world for months to come while iron ore production and transport infrastructure is restored after damage and disruption by the floods.
On a brighter note, it is good to see that Queensland floodwaters have made their way to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre and are rejuvenating our largest water body.