Engage in activities and develop strategies aiming to improve trust between citizens and authorities


Trust between citizens and authorities is not only needed for effective disaster and disaster risk communication, but citizens’ trust also plays an important role when rescuers take rapid decisions respecting human dignity and fundamental rights. Governments, public institutions, Disaster Management Authorities and companies involved in hazardous activities should engage in activities and develop strategies that aim to win, improve, and maintain citizens’ trust. It is very easy to lose sight of the importance of trust in day-to-day practice. It is important to implement guidelines which address this topic explicitly and prominently (Deliverable 7.3, Deliverable 5.12).

Applicable to:

Stakeholders: Policy Makers, Disaster Managers

Disaster Phases: Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery

Types of Actors Concerned: Non-active citizens, Active citizens, Local authorities, National research bodies, Media, National civil protection bodies, Healthcare and emergency services

Hazards: Natural hazards, Man-made non-intentional hazards or emergency situations, Man-made intentional hazards

Cultural Map Entries:

A high level of trust in authorities might result in people believing that preparedness for disaster is exclusively the former's responsibility

Loss of confidence in civil authorities after man-made disasters

Lack of trust regarding the public's relation to the authorities and science experts

Decreasing trust in industry and political systems and influence on risk perception and behavioural responses to adverse events

Trust in authorities and experts as a shortcut for making judgements by relying on experts' opinions

Trust in authorities becomes particularly important when it comes to risk preparedness

Social involvement makes local communities more proactive in developing risk management strategies

The perception of authorities as more trustworthy is a predictor of lower levels of perceived nuclear risk

Varying level of trust in authorities, with regards to nuclear risk in the UK, Spain, France and Sweden

The relationship between trust and perceived nuclear risk is not universal: lower in the UK and higher in Sweden

Race and gender as significant predictors of trust in authorities

Education is a significant predictor of risk perception and attitudes towards those phenomena

In the aftermath of a disaster, levels of trust in authorities tend to decline significantly

People with higher levels of education and higher incomes have a lower levels of trust in governments and higher levels of trust in scientific institutions

Institutional preparedness raises levels of citizen concern

Link between trust in local authorities and lower levels of perceived risk

Importance of knowledge with regards to perception of risk and trust in authorities

Links between trust in authorities and disaster behaviours

Impact of distrust of authorities and non-governmental organisations providing an adequate response in a disaster

Institutional and familial roles in educating children on how to respond in a disaster

Distrust in authorities undermine the latter's' efforts at responding effectively in a disaster

Use of social media and crowdsourcing in disaster situations

Relationship between perceived effectiveness and trustworthiness of authorities

Differences in trust in mass media vs social media

Citizen trust in authorities is a two way street

Positive experiences of first responder action in the recovery phase of a disaster outweighs negative ones

Impact of experience with smaller-scale or personal emergencies in building trust in first responders during major disasters

Visibility of how authorities work during disaster situations can instil trust in same

The role of smartphone apps in disasters

Citizen perceived effectiveness of different responders

Trust in authorities during a disaster is linked to perceptions of how well they are prepared for a disaster

The role of perceived dedication to a cause in influencing trust in voluntary aid organisations

Prior positive experiences with authorities increase trust levels in a disaster

Trust levels in authorities amongst people with a migration background

Citizen perception of effectiveness of authorities in natural vs man-made disasters

Perceived trustworthiness of media in disaster situations

Varying levels of trust in public institutions vs private media channels

Trustworthiness of official messages sent via social media

Participation in preparedness activities increases social cohesion and trust in fellow citizens and authorities measures

Differing reactions to the reporting of local vs international first responder activity

National and regional backgrounds influence levels of trust in authorities

Social media police sites are highly appreciated and trusted

Trust is strongly linked to the visibility of institutions during a disaster

Perceptions of the symbol of the uniform and how it affects trust

The importance of using multiple communication channels in disaster environments

Citizens' expectations during a disaster is often related to their trust in authorities

The importance of empathy and other soft skills in first responders when dealing with a disaster situation

Trust in practitioners related to trust in how their institutions are managed

Tapping into the potential of citizens who share a passion to give help during disasters

Social/mutual trust inside communities

Trust in disaster situations

Distrust in disaster situations

Trust issues in risk communication

Trust and communication

Lack of trust hampering risk-adapted behaviour

Cultural adaptations in communication

Social capital can help building trust

Engaging community leaders to foster trust in authorities

Measures to ensure collaborative partnerships between communities and DMAs

Building trust in early warning systems

Building effective communication mechanism between communities and DMAs

Reducing children vulnerabilities through education

Community-based disaster management and risk reduction

Voluntary capacity building in disaster contexts

Empowering communities and individuals in planning, coordinating and re-building during disasters

Lack of trust in authorities

NGO roles in disaster management

Teaching communities to understand technologies in India

Changing trust in authorities

Trust in authorities in disaster settings

General association with cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities


Recommendation 1.A for implementation related to different levels of citizens’ trust

Try to establish (e.g., from feedback, research carried out by local authorities, research organizations, or the media) whether there are substantially large groups in the community that have different levels of trust in authorities. In case of a disaster, communities with a medium level of trust are likely to follow instructions.Communities with very high or very low levels of trust are less likely to follow instructions. Develop guidelines and procedures for disaster practitioners which take these different reactions by citizens into account.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities

Recommendation 1.B for implementation related to different levels of citizens’ trust

Manage the trust levels of the different cultural groups prior to disaster.If trust levels are low, implement educational measures for preparedness. High trust levels may result in a failure to take precautionary measures; in such cases, specify outcomes that are not the responsibility of the authorities but require citizens’ actions.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities

Recommendation 1.C for implementation related to different levels of citizens’ trust

Make use of high levels of trust that migrants or expatriates (who are settled and strongly identify themselves with their new home) put in authorities by identifying such persons and encouraging them to help as informal liaison persons who can mediate between citizens and disaster managers.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities, Ethnicity

Recommendation 2.A for implementation related to media cooperation

The way in which the media report on disasters can have a powerful effect on the trust that citizens have in authorities. To improve citizens’ trust, make sure to investigate the causes of a disaster and present your actions during the disaster truthfully and openly and inform the media in a timely manner.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities, Attitudes toward the media

Recommendation 2.B for implementation related to media cooperation

Create and upkeep trustworthy social media profiles for information dissemination, so that target groups know where to search for adequate information in times of disaster.

Related cultural factors: Communication, Attitudes toward the media

Recommendation 2.C for implementation related to media cooperation

Promote citizens’ trust in emergency services by making their training efforts more public, e.g. through promoting emergency drills via traditional and social media.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities

Recommendation 2.D for implementation related to media cooperation

To improve citizens’ trust through instilling collective identification and pride, increase the “visibility” of disaster authorities, e.g., through media coverage of disaster scenario exercises or successful participation in disaster situations abroad.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities

Recommendation 2.E for implementation related to media cooperation

Use social media to regain citizens’ trust by taking up the role of a trustworthy information provider, at times where both private and public media channels are increasingly distrusted.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities

Other recommendations for implementation to improve citizens’ trust - Recommendation 3.A

To improve trust in authorities, information materials and practical disasters / emergency exercises should highlight the fact that disaster practitioners do not only provide physical but also emotional help.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities

Other recommendations for implementation to improve citizens’ trust - Recommendation 3.B

Whilst there is extensive knowledge about citizens’ trust in different authorities during the disaster response and recovery phase, there is still little known about the role of trust in the disaster preparedness phase, which should be investigated further in cooperation between practitioners and researchers.

Related cultural factors: Attitudes toward authorities

Further reading:

Button, G. (2010). Disaster Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (2011, December). A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1813-25045-0649/whole_community_dec2011__2_.pdf

Figueroa, P. M. (2013). Risk communication surrounding the Fukushima nuclear disaster: an anthropological approach. Asia Europe Journal, 11(1).

Gierlach, E., Belsher, B. E., & Beutler, L. E. (2010). Cross‐cultural differences in risk perceptions of disasters. Risk analysis, 30(10).

Grothmann, T., & Reusswig, F. (2006). People at risk of flooding: Why some residents take precautionary action while others do not. Natural Hazards, 38(1–2).

Gultom, D. I. (2016). Community-based disaster communication: how does it become trustworthy? Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal, 25(4), doi: 10.1108/DPM-02-2016-0026.

Lee, J. E., & Lemyre, L. (2009). A social‐cognitive perspective of terrorism risk perception and individual response in Canada. Risk analysis, 29(9).

Paton, D. (2008). Risk communication and natural hazard mitigation: How trust influences its effectiveness. International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, 8(1–2).

Penney, M. (n.d.) Nuclear Power and Shifts in Japanese Public Opinion. The Asia-Pacific Journal. Retrieved 05/05/2017, from http://apjjf.org/-Matthew-Penney/4707/article.html

Rød, S. K., Botan, C., & Holen, A. (2012). Risk communication and the willingness to follow evacuation instructions in a natural disaster. Health, Risk & Society, 14(1), doi: 10.1080/13698575.2011.641522.

Samaddar, S., Misra, B. A., &Tatano, H. (2012, 14-17 Oct. 2012). Flood risk awareness and preparedness: The role of trust in information sources. Paper presented at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics (SMC).

Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., Abel, T. D., Guagnano, G. A., & Kalof, L. (1999). A value-belief-norm theory of support for social movements: The case of environmentalism. Human ecology review, 6(2).

Terpstra, T. (2010). Flood preparedness: Thoughts, feelings and intentions of the Dutch public. Doctoral thesis, University of Twente.

Viklund, M. J. (2003). Trust and risk perception in western Europe: A cross‐national study. Risk analysis, 23(4).

Wachinger, G., Renn, O., Begg, C., & Kuhlicke, C. (2013). The risk perception paradox – implications for governance and communication of natural hazards. Risk analysis, 33(6).

Whitfield, S. C., Rosa, E. A., Dan, A., & Dietz, T. (2009). The future of nuclear power: Value orientations and risk perception. Risk Analysis, 29(3).