Difficulties in explaining complex issues with maps: evaluating seismic hazard communication – the Swiss case
A total of 2.7 billion people live in areas where earthquakes causing at least slight damage have to be expected regularly. Providing information can potentially save lives and improve the resilience of a society. Maps are an established way to illustrate natural hazards. Despite being mainly tailored to the requirements of professional users, they are often the only accessible information to help the public in deciding about mitigation measures. There is evidence that hazard maps are frequently misconceived. Visual and textual characteristics as well as the manner of presentation have been shown to influence their comprehensibility. Using a real case reflecting current practices, the material to communicate the updated seismic hazard model for Switzerland was analyzed in a representative online survey of the population (N=491) and in two workshops involving architects and engineers not specializing in seismic retrofitting (N=23). Although many best-practice recommendations have been followed, the understanding of seismic hazard information remains challenging. Whereas most participants were able to distinguish hazardous from less hazardous areas, correctly interpreting detailed results and identifying the most suitable set of information for answering a given question proved demanding. We suggest scrutinizing current natural-hazard communication strategies, empirically testing new products, and exploring alternatives to raise awareness and enhance preparedness.