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Cara L. Cuite, Rachael L. Shwom, William K. Hallman, Rebecca E. Morss, and Julie L. Demuth

Abstract

Evacuation before severe coastal storms is a critical tool for keeping coastal residents safe. Effective messaging of evacuations could help save lives, but there is little evidence-based guidance on the advantages or disadvantages of specific messaging. Ideally, evacuation messages would convince those most at risk to evacuate and those who do not need to evacuate to stay in their homes. Using an online survey of 1716 coastal residents in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, this study randomly assigned respondents to message conditions in each of two hypothetical storm scenarios. Results from the first scenario indicate that those who saw mandatory evacuation messages had higher evacuation intentions than those who saw advisory messages, and both of those messages resulted in slightly higher evacuation intentions than voluntary evacuation messages. However, voluntary messages resulted in lower evacuation intentions for those that did not live in evacuation zones compared to those who did live in evacuation zones, which may help reduce shadow evacuation. In the second scenario, identifying an evacuation area by the municipality name or the individual’s street name resulted in similar evacuation intentions across all participants. Messages identifying an evacuation area by “flood zone” or “flood-prone area” resulted in equally high evacuation intentions for those who believe they live in a flood zone, but these messages suppressed evacuation intentions for those who do not believe they live in a flood zone. This indicates that such messages could also be an effective approach for reducing shadow evacuation. Implications for risk communicators and emergency managers are discussed.

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Cara L. Cuite, Rebecca E. Morss, Julie L. Demuth, and William K. Hallman

Abstract

Both hurricanes and nor’easters can be destructive and deadly. The current study investigates whether, when all other features of a storm warning message are held constant, people perceive the risks posed by nor’easters and hurricanes differently and whether these differences affect their attitudes and decisions about taking protective action. We conducted an online experiment involving 1,700 Americans residing in northeastern coastal ZIP codes to test the effects of storm type (hurricane vs nor’easter). Participants were told that their area was under an evacuation order due to either a predicted hurricane or nor’easter. Reported message comprehension and perceived relevance were similar across storm type; however, storm type had small but significant effects on other dependent measures. Those in the hurricane condition were more likely to believe the storm would be severe (p = 0.007). They were also more likely to say that it is important to evacuate, that they would evacuate their homes, and that they would recommend to their neighbors that they evacuate (p < 0.001). Additional analysis demonstrated that the effect of storm type on evacuation likelihood is mediated, at least in part, by perceived severity. These findings provide evidence that people perceive hurricanes as more severe and more likely to require taking protective action than nor’easters, even when other attributes of the storms remain the same. Forecasters, broadcast meteorologists, and emergency management professionals should consider these small but important differences in perceptions when communicating about these types of storms.

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