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Insights into flood navigation from road signs?


Disastrous Floods as Indicators of Systemic Risk Neglect (Part #11)


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In the case of Australia, the road signs also typically include warnings regarding the current level of fire danger or the potential dangers in the event of flooding (as noted above).

An extensive summary of road traffic signs, variously clustered, is provided in Wikipedia entries. In the entry on traffic signs, Wikipedia notes that Annexe 1 of the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (1968) defines eight categories of signs. As an exercise, a selection of road traffic signs is presented in an Annex (Being in the Flow on Strategic Highways and Byways: enabling sustainable self-governance through traffic signage, 2011). These are loosely clustered to distinguish between:

  • purely advisory information,
  • warnings relevant to prudent driving,
  • rules which must be followed to avoid collisions.

The commentary in the Annex endeavours to highlight the systemic relevance of the signs with respect to the "self-governance" of:

  • flows in opposite directions
  • intersecting and cross-cutting flows
  • hazards calling for prudence
  • speed

Whilst suggesting systemic parallels in navigating risky flow situations --"floods" -- the Annex raises the questions:

  • which traffic signs are of no systemic relevance to which situations, namely which are of no relevance in some way?
  • what is the minimum number of signs to enable viable navigation of "floods" -- the optimum number, an excessive number?
  • whether a general theory of "traffic signs" could be developed, from a more systemic perspective, to facilitate navigation in a variety of flow situations?

Given the number of road traffic signs people are called upon to recognize within the flow of traffic, how many "signs" might be required to enable navigation of the dynamics of other systems and their associated forms of flood?

A variant of this question is a feature of the theory of signage systems, namely the design of a comprehensive set of signs for a facility or for an environment. This is illustrated by the study of Ravi Poovaiah (Graphic Symbols for Environmental Signage: a Design Perspective, 1995) who argues:

'Symbols' conceived in the context of environmental directional signage, and one that is specifically intended as a public service facility, is being seen here as having the potentials for constructing an effective graphical interface between the user and the intended facility; the objective is to facilitate the activities of locating, identifying, informing and directing the user through the various gamut of activities of a given service facility.

Such a perspective raises the question as to how it might be applied more generally to elicit the signs and symbols of requisite scope for sustainable governance of the global environment -- as a "public service facility". Appropriately an international review of this approach uses a descriptor of strategic significance (Philipp Meuser and Daniela Pogade, Wayfinding and Signage: Construction and Design Manual, 2010).


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