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“Certain Death” from Storm Surge: A Comparative Study of Household Responses to Warnings about Hurricanes Rita and Ike

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  • 1 Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
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Abstract

This study examines the effect of an unusual “certain death” warning message on Galveston, Harris, and Jefferson County, Texas, residents’ expectations of storm surge damage and evacuation decisions during Hurricane Ike. The effect of this message was tested by comparing questionnaire data collected after Hurricane Ike to similar data collected 3 yr earlier after Hurricane Rita. If the certain death message had an effect, one would expect nonsignificant differences in perceptions of the two storms’ surge threats because the category 2 storm (Ike) had a surge that was more characteristic of a category 5 storm (Rita). However, the ratings of the storm surge threat for Ike were significantly lower than those for Rita in Galveston County—the point of landfall. Moreover, evacuation rates for Ike were consistently lower than those for Rita in all three counties, and there were no statistically significant differences between storms in the correlations of expected storm surge damage with evacuation decisions. In summary, these data fail to show evidence that the dramatic certain death warning increased expectations of surge threat and evacuation decisions. These findings underscore the need for those disseminating weather warnings to better understand how hurricane warnings flow from an initial source through intermediate links to the ultimate receivers as well as how these ultimate receivers receive, heed, interpret, and decide how to act upon those warnings.

Corresponding author address: M. K. Lindell, 3137 TAMU, Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3137. E-mail: mlindell@tamu.edu

Abstract

This study examines the effect of an unusual “certain death” warning message on Galveston, Harris, and Jefferson County, Texas, residents’ expectations of storm surge damage and evacuation decisions during Hurricane Ike. The effect of this message was tested by comparing questionnaire data collected after Hurricane Ike to similar data collected 3 yr earlier after Hurricane Rita. If the certain death message had an effect, one would expect nonsignificant differences in perceptions of the two storms’ surge threats because the category 2 storm (Ike) had a surge that was more characteristic of a category 5 storm (Rita). However, the ratings of the storm surge threat for Ike were significantly lower than those for Rita in Galveston County—the point of landfall. Moreover, evacuation rates for Ike were consistently lower than those for Rita in all three counties, and there were no statistically significant differences between storms in the correlations of expected storm surge damage with evacuation decisions. In summary, these data fail to show evidence that the dramatic certain death warning increased expectations of surge threat and evacuation decisions. These findings underscore the need for those disseminating weather warnings to better understand how hurricane warnings flow from an initial source through intermediate links to the ultimate receivers as well as how these ultimate receivers receive, heed, interpret, and decide how to act upon those warnings.

Corresponding author address: M. K. Lindell, 3137 TAMU, Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3137. E-mail: mlindell@tamu.edu
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