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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute


Determining the Differences in Hurricane Perception and Evacuation Behavior in the Elderly of South Carolina

GREGG BOWSER

Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter

ABSTRACT

            The United States is becoming a “grayer” nation.  US Administration of Aging projections indicate that by 2030 nearly 20 percent of the national population will be aged 65 or older, with a significant portion of this growth occurring along the hurricane-prone Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  This demographic shift creates new challenges for emergency management.  Previous research shows that the elderly do not perceive risks and warnings the same way as other groups, and as a result may react differently to risk.  Disproportionately high fatality rates for the elderly in recent disasters indicate that these differences are a key determinant of survival in a disaster, and that crucial information about how elderly perceive and respond to hazards is missing.

            This research aims to improve understanding of how the elderly population perceives and responds to the threat of hurricanes in the rapidly graying state of South Carolina.  One goal of this research is to identify and explore key differences in hurricane behavior between the younger population and the elderly.  Another goal is to compare changes in behavior and intended action between two different segments of the elderly population, defined in the public health literature:  the “young-old” (those aged 65-74) and the “aged and oldest-old” (those 75 and older).  Finally, this research explores the importance of factors such as proximity to the hurricane threat, perception of hurricane risk, and previous storm experience in evacuation behavior. 

            This study addresses these questions through a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative analyses using data from the 2011 South Carolina hurricane evacuation survey and interviews with elderly individuals.  The findings indicate that various influences, such as pet ownership and work status, affect potential evacuation behavior differently between groups.  All three age groups exhibit differences, indicating that a universal assessment of evacuation behavior may not be the best approach.  Risk perception demonstrates the strongest influence as part of logistic models, and serves as an intermediary factor in causal models.  Experience demonstrates variable influence between groups.  The findings of this study provide the basis for planning improvements and outreach for coastal elderly populations coping with natural hazards.

 

Dissertation