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Robert J. Meyer, Jay Baker, Kenneth Broad, Jeff Czajkowski, and Ben Orlove

Findings are reported from two field studies that measured the evolution of coastal residents' risk perceptions and preparation plans as two hurricanes—Isaac and Sandy—were approaching the U.S. coast during the 2012 hurricane season. The data suggest that residents threatened by such storms had a poor understanding of the threat posed by the storms; they overestimated the likelihood that their homes would be subject to hurricane-force wind conditions but underestimated the potential damage that such winds could cause, and they misconstrued the greatest threat as coming from wind rather than water. These misperceptions translated into preparation actions that were not well commensurate with the nature and scale of the threat that they faced, with residents being well prepared for a modest wind event of short duration but not for a significant wind-and-water catastrophe. Possible causes of the biases and policy implications for improving hurricane warning communication are discussed.

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