Date of Award

12-15-2014

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Earth and Ocean Sciences

First Advisor

Christopher T. Emrich

Abstract

Many communities across the nation, especially those in coastal areas, are experiencing extensive growth and expansion. This growth and the associated need for additional infrastructure, goods and services, and basic human needs often place people and the things they value in harm’s way due to the threat of a natural disaster. In order to properly prepare and mitigate disaster impacts, individuals and communities must view disasters as events that will likely occur at least once during their lifetime rather than simply outside possibilities. Residents of coastal communities must prepare for potential impacts from hurricanes and resulting storm surges and must consider evacuation ahead of the storm to ensure their personal safety. The decision to evacuate from a disaster area as opposed to sheltering in place is contingent upon a variety of place-based heuristics. These world views are heavily influenced by a variety of variables including the type and quantity of information about disasters received, preparedness activities undertaken, previous disaster experience, and risk perception which may each lead to inappropriate evacuation decisions. However, the concepts of disaster preparedness and previous experience and their combined influence on evacuation intent are not yet fully understood. This thesis will analyze the influence of hurricane preparedness and previous evacuation experience at the individual level on intent to stay or evacuate from a hurricane. Utilizing data collected by The Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute (HVRI) at The University of South Carolina during a 2011 hurricane evacuation behavioral study, the types and number of preparedness measures taken by respondents and their previous hurricane experience were compared against the number of citizens that indicated their willingness to evacuate for varying categories of hurricane. Understanding the individual and coupled influence of these population characteristics is useful information for emergency planning and response agencies responsible for educating citizens on preparedness and planning activities with the goal of promoting evacuation when one has been ordered. Across coastal areas of SC, preparedness and planning, hazard perception, and previous experience were the most influential factors on evacuation intent. It was noted that citizens who completed a minimum of three actions to prepare for hurricane season were over 200% more likely to evacuate than those that did not prepare. As such, citizens that were very concerned about the threat of a hurricane were much more likely to prepare prior to the event. Conversely, those that had experienced a hurricane within their lifetime were less likely to evacuate. Natural disasters occur on varying temporal and spatial scales, and as such, it is critical to identify the factors that may cause evacuation behavior to differ by locale. Such information will enable emergency planners to focus educational efforts on specific areas of the communities that are more vulnerable. By promoting planning and preparedness and understanding how those factors aide in evacuation, community and state emergency management agencies will not only enhance resistance to hurricanes, but create a path for quick recovery and resiliency to future events.

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