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Joseph E. Trainor, Danielle Nagele, Brenda Philips, and Brittany Scott


Despite considerable interest in the weather enterprise, there is little focused research on the “false alarm effect.” Within the body of research that does exist, findings are mixed. Some studies suggest that the false alarm effect is overstated, while several recent efforts have provided evidence that FAR may be a significant determinate of behavior. This effort contributes to the understanding of FAR through a sociological analysis of public perceptions and behavioral responses to tornadoes. This analysis begins by addressing public definitions of FAR and then provides two statistical models, one focused on perception of FAR and one focused on behavioral response to tornado warnings. The authors’ approach incorporates a number of sociological and other social science concepts as predictors in both of these models. Findings provide a number of important insights. Most notably, it is found that 1) there is a wide degree of variation in public definitions of false alarm, 2) actual county FAR rates do not predict perception of FAR, 3) actual county FAR rates do predict behavioral response, and 4) planning and family characteristics are also influential. Another major contribution is to illustrate the significant complexity associated with analysis of false alarms. Conclusions discuss the limits of this analysis and future direction for this type of research.

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