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Risk culture in France: raising awareness and mobilising citizens through digital means
Posted on 26 August 2021

Everyone can see the importance of natural and technological disasters in the daily life of the country. Although crisis management tools have existed for a long time, they have not undergone a major revision for many years. In order to respond to the challenge of protecting populations, the Ministry of Ecological Transition has launched a mission to modernise the culture of risk, of which Caroline Rizza, a professor and researcher at Télécom Paris, is a member.

Unfortunately, examples of disasters abound in the news: the flooding of the Roya and Vésubie valleys, the passage of storm Irma in the West Indies, the fire at the Lubrizol site in Rouen and the coronavirus crisis that we have been experiencing for almost a year. Whether their causes are natural or technological, many of their victims could be avoided by better information for citizens, a greater understanding of the risks, the adoption of good practices and the development of a genuine risk culture.

These are the objectives of the new mission announced by the Minister for Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, and chaired by Fred Courant, known to the general public for the scientific programme "C'est pas sorcier" and founder of the scientific culture platform L'Esprit Sorcier. This mission is made up of a committee of five experts, academics and professionals, specialised in communication, behavioural sciences, digital technology and crisis management, including Caroline Rizza, a teacher and researcher in information sciences at Télécom Paris.

Caroline Rizza, member of the Risk Awareness Mission

Carried out within the Interdisciplinary Institute of Innovation (UMR 9217), Caroline Rizza's current research work focuses on the contribution of digital media in crisis management and, in particular, on the digital skills of crisis actors, whether they are institutions or citizens. Since 2018 she has been coordinating several studies on the subject, including the ANR MACIV project "Managing citizens and volunteers: the contribution of social media in crisis situations", which focuses on the technological, institutional and citizen issues at work, with the aim of integrating citizen initiatives into crisis management processes. These results will be used to develop a module for integrating these initiatives into the RIO-Suite crisis management planning platform (IMT Mines Albi).

Caroline Rizza's dual expertise in crises and digital technology has enriched the committee's reflections on the informational and organisational dimensions of the contribution of social media and on the citizen participation that takes shape in these virtual public spaces: "As an example, during the Nice attacks in July 2016, taxis immediately organised themselves to evacuate the people present on the Promenade des Anglais; during the Bataclan attacks in 2015, Parisians opened their doors to welcome those who could not return home and used the hashtag #parisportesouvertes. [...] The arrival of social media in everyday life has enriched this range of initiatives by allowing them to manifest and organise themselves online in addition to the actions that usually arise spontaneously on the ground." (source: The Conversation).

The new mission allows for greater involvement of the population and the modernisation of the public's information and risk education systems. It thus responds to the need to protect populations but also to raise awareness of the tangible consequences of global warming.

The mission submitted its report to Barbara Pompili, Minister for Ecological Transition, in July 2021. It recommends in particular:

  • To set up an annual national event, federating and mobilising on risks;
  • To develop and adapt the "GeoHazards" platform to make it the reference site for risk culture;
  • To create mobile units to go and meet the inhabitants and allow them a physical and sensory experience of risks;
  • To encourage mayors to appoint a single "risk" referent;
  • To create a major annual national competition that will encourage municipalities to carry out actions in the field of risk prevention and territorial resilience and will thus promote proactive approaches.

Read the full report (french)