Risk Perception, Resilience, and Stakeholder Coordination: Social Aspects of Emergency Management

Risk Perception, Resilience, and Stakeholder Coordination: Social Aspects of Emergency Management

Risk perception plays a vital role in emergency management, essential for modern societies to predict and swiftly respond to both natural and human-made crises. Also resilience, both at individual and social levels, is pivotal for managing the often prolonged stress loads. Equally important is collaboration among all stakeholders, including public officials and volunteers, to mitigate damage; disjointed efforts might worsen the situation.Understanding and enhancing the human mind’s role in these processes is key to improving emergency responses. As English anthropologist Tim Ingold states, “Places don’t have locations but histories”: individual and collective identity are intrinsically closer during crises, and if carefully trained, can turn a critical moment into an opportunity rather than a disordered confusion with dangerous impact.



In 1969, psychologists Bibb Latané and Judith Rodin staged an experiment featuring a woman in danger: the majority of people alone (70%) immediately went to help her, while a significant portion of those in a group (40%) hesitated to offer their support. This experiment shows that risk perception varies depending on the number of people present, and the more actors on the scene, the longer it takes to realise the severity of the situation and intervene. Factors such as the victim’s gender, proximity, and social status also play a crucial role, often unconsciously. This incident, centred around the “bystander effect”, is one of the many cases studied by Emergency Psychology, born following various terrorist attacks in the 1990s in France, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Emergency Psychology deals with the evaluation of “all psychological processes (perception, attention, memory, reasoning emotion, communication, attachment, etc.) that occur at the individual, family, group, organisational, and community levels in emergency contexts” (F. Sbattella, 2016). One focus of this discipline is risk, defined as an event that entails the possibility of a negative outcome and a loss associated with it. It is evaluated as pleasant or bearable, as long as these do not impinge on their perceived sense of control; otherwise, the unforeseen elements often turn into significant stressors. The perception of danger varies depending on age, location, other people we have around us at various moments of life, external personal security, as well as culture (which is always embodied, incorporated, but also embedded, i.e., situated in a context that can never remain identical to itself and that is continuously regenerating). Zygmunt Bauman (2002) argued that “The game of domination in the era of liquid modernity is not played between the bigger and the smaller, but between the quicker and the slower”, highlighting the urgency to decide in a few moments which path to follow, especially in emergency contexts.


The concept of “resilience” was introduced in the 1980s, initially as a theoretical construct and then validated in experimental research in the 1990s. Resilience is defined as “the ability to adapt and develop in response to challenging situations”, involving the mobilisation of both personal and collective resources to effectively manage stress from specific events. A variety of factors, as identified by Sbattella (2016), play a role in fostering resilience, namely:


  • Relational Experiences

Early-life attachment patterns lay the groundwork for a secure approach to crises, focusing on clear objectives and future experiences, regardless of the individual’s age when facing the crisis.

  • Social Experiences

Belonging to a group is one of Abraham Maslow’s main psychological needs, and the awareness of being inside a social network capable of confirming identity influences the perception of control that the individual has over themselves and the situation (internal locus of control: “I can effectively face the situation because I have the necessary resources”).

  • Educational Experiences

Cultural influences and values shape our response to the unexpected, either enhancing or reducing our sense of competency. The ideal approach involves embracing trial and error, free from fear of failure, in a constructive problem-solving environment.

  • Personality Traits

Traits like extroversion, empathy, conscientiousness, and strong imaginative and organisational skills play a significant role in effective problem-solving.



During the 2011 terrorist attacks in Utøya, Norway, civilians spontaneously contributed to saving a large number of people. The police delayed giving permission for ambulances to access a “safe” area, so people improvised rescue operations: some rushed on boats to collect injured and desperate children trying to swim to shore, while on land, camping guests treated the wounded waiting for professional help. Such scenarios can lead to trauma, regardless of the action’s outcome, stemming from the need for rapid, instinctive decision-making under extreme pressure: that instant is fixed in memory, and it doesn’t matter what happened before or after, whether that child was saved or not, it will remain there and reappear in different forms until it is adequately processed together with an expert (an effective solution is writing, as psychologists James Pennebaker and Y. Danieli testified). Cases of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in war veterans are well-documented, arising from carrying out actions they only partly comprehended or agreed with, leading to internal conflict, but as the Norway episode shows, even in “normality”, during the randomness of a disaster, no one is exempt from negative emphasised reactions when forced to rely solely on their own strength to survive or avert dramatic outcomes. Such extreme events should not occur because the common goal must be to provide concrete tools and guidelines to all citizens, qualified public authorities to manage specific risks both autonomously and jointly. So as not to find oneself, in a very short moment, reacting necessarily with the only response mechanisms of panic, which focus on attack (often with disorganised and confused responses), flight, or freezing.



Risk perception, social resilience, and the gap between public authorities and volunteer civilian population are at the heart of various social research and European projects. Deep Blue actively collaborates within ENGAGE (Engage Society for Risk Awareness and Resilience), funded under the European Research and Innovation Program Horizon 2020 and coordinated by the Norwegian research institute SINTEF, the Institute for Technical and Industrial Research, together with 14 partners and 40 professional organisations. The project targets societal engagement, aiming to unify diverse intervention methods for a more effective and united disaster response.

Deep Blue Contributed to the conception of the project and will coordinate the validation phase of the results. Alberto Pasquini, president of Deep Blue, states that “the goal of ENGAGE is to focus on the social aspects of risk management. We will identify the solutions adopted by citizens, local communities, and non-governmental organisations that have worked in certain crisis situations and assess the possibility of ‘exporting’ them to different scenarios. It will be important to characterise the environmental context (cultural, socio-economic, geographical) that determines the success of the different solutions and understand what influences their reproducibility.”

ENGAGE analyses past natural emergencies, from terrorist attacks to man-made disasters, to understand which practical intervention solutions have been implemented to face the crisis moment in the specific situation. Working with the Knowledge and Innovation Community of Practice (KI-CoP), ENGAGE unites professionals, NGOs, researchers, and citizens, who support ENGAGE as users and co-owners of its solutions. The aim is to deliver clear emergency response strategies that bridge the perceived and concrete gap between the population, rescuers, and authorities, reducing the gap between formal and informal practices. Each solution is then validated together with real users, to ensure that it can be transferred and put into practice in real and specific contexts, leading to the formulation of shared guidelines for risk management. Always keeping in mind that, using the words of Stian Antonsen, Jannicke Fiskvik, Siri Marianne Holen, in every phase of the project it is always necessary to keep in mind that data depend on people, and it is therefore a responsibility to safeguard individual interests at every moment of the research.

Aligned with the 2030 Agenda,the project aims to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a specific focus on goal eleven: making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. In addition, the solutions proposed by ENGAGE contribute to the SENDAI Framework for Disaster and Risk Reduction, managing to establish a broader and people-centred approach to disaster risk.

For more information on ENGAGE, visit the project website: https://www.project-engage.eu/


  • Marta, M. Lanz, “Social Psychology”, McGraw Hill, 2013
  • Feldman, G. Amoretti, M.R. Ciceri, “General Psychology”, McGraw Hill, 2012
  • Sbattella, M. Tettamanzi, “Fondamenti di psicologia dell’emergenza”, Franco Angeli, 2013
  • Sbattella, “Persone scomparse. Aspetti psicologici dell’attesa e della ricerca”, Franco Angeli, 2016
  • Z.Bauman, “Liquid Modernity”, John Wiley and Sons Ltd , 2000

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