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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Risk Visualization as a Means for Altering Hazard Cognition

Richard Franklin Collins, Jr.

Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter



How a person perceives risk is fundamental in explaining how he or she will react to the risk. This perception of a hazard will cause a person to take certain actions to protect themselves, their families, and their property from damage, injury, or death. People receive information regarding risk from a variety of sources. The receipt of this risk information is part of a process called risk communication, a crucial component of risk perception. Risk communication can be provided in a variety of ways to include written text, the spoken word, or by visual means. Adding new information to this risk communication process can alter a person's cognition of a hazard. This altered perception can increase or decrease the vulnerability of a person based on the information provided.

This dissertation examined the use of animated 3-dimensional risk visualization as a means for altering hazard cognition. The population of Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, a barrier island, was surveyed to determine their perceptions regarding their vulnerability to hurricane associated storm surge and their potential evacuation behavior. Portions of the population were then shown either an animated risk visualization model or a storm surge informational brochure. Another survey was administered and the results compared to the initial survey to see if the model or brochure had altered their hazard cognition related to storm surge.

The risk visualization model did in fact alter the cognition of the majority of the people who viewed it. There was an increase in perceived vulnerability and evacuation behavior was modified so that more people were taken out of harm's way sooner. The storm surge brochure also altered the hazard cognition of the group examining it, but in this case the brochure made the people perceive less risk from the Category 1 hurricanes thereby putting more people at risk. This research supports the assumption that animated 3-dimensional risk visualization is a effective means of communicating the risks involved with hazards. The research should be expanded beyond hurricanes to other natural and technological hazards.

KEYWORDS: Hazards, Risk Visualization, Remote Sensing, Hurricanes