The efficacy of preparing for natural disasters
Stein, Robert; Buzcu-Given, Birnur; Duenas-Osorio, Leonardo; Subramanian, Devika
Previous research has identified a host of actions individuals take in preparation for pending natural disasters. We do not know, however, how these preparations affect outcomes, including property damage, personal injury and evacuation behavior. In this study we argue that different modes/types of preparation produce different outcomes and are associated with different predictors. We test our hypotheses with data from a survey conducted with residents of Harris County, Texas, after Hurricane Ike in 2008. We find that preparations for hurricanes cluster around two distinct dimensions; preventative preparation (e.g., raising the level of residence, purchasing insurance) and mitigating preparation (e.g., buying water and food, filling gas tank). We tested the relationship between preparation and outcomes by defining preparation as a function of risk and other determinants of risk identified in the literature including prior hurricane experience, demographics, living closer to the coast, and information seeking. We find that those who prepare are most likely to confront greater risk from approaching hurricanes than those who do not prepare. We also find that preventative preparation has a significant and negative effect on bad outcomes, specifically in property damage. Mitigating preparation, however, has a significant and negative effect on the likelihood individuals evacuate, especially residents of non-evacuation areas. Our findings have strong implications on how emergency planners and local officials should prepare for and communicate with the public before severe weather episodes.