The Impact of Optimism on Evacuation Behavior in South Carolina Hurricane Evacuation Zones
Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter
Previous research in the behavioral sciences has shown problem solving and coping skills to be related to optimism; however, in the hazards field, this topic is understudied. This thesis aims to fill this gap in the literature by empirically studying the impact of optimism on proactive evacuation behavior, perceptions of control, and coping skills. Optimism levels may not be the first indicator of a population at risk, but can help to validate specific populations that may not evacuate when necessary. Applying the optimism literature to hazards suggests that problem solving and coping strategies are important indicators of likely responses to hazards. In particular, problem solving and coping strategies can contribute to proactive evacuation behavior.
This thesis uses the Life Orientation Test-Revision included in the 2011 South Carolina Hurricane Evacuation Behavior Study to explore the relationship between optimism and demographic variables, evacuation behavior, perception of control (believing that one determines their own circumstances), and coping skills (rely on social networks or family and friends). Optimistic residents in this study tend to have a higher income, practice more preparation behaviors, evacuate in the event of a major hurricane, believe disaster relief is their personal responsibility, and are willing to rely on their family and friends. From an emergency management perspective, this research finds targeting messages to middle/low income families, women, and younger populations with specific evacuation information may increase positive compliance.
Optimism is an essential component of wellness and should be monitored to ensure that a population remains well both before and after an event (Norris, 2010). Many emergency managers may not initially see the use of knowing their county’s optimism levels; however, this information is critical to educating the public prior to an evacuation. The issue with hurricane evacuation is no longer simply making them smooth an effective, but effectively communicating the risk to those living in these areas.Thesis