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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Uncertainty and Behavior: Hurricane Hazards in Horry County, South Carolina

Arleen Hill

Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter



In light of the increasing vulnerability of coastal communities and the evolving nature of risk judgments of individuals residing in these communities this dissertation investigates the link between hurricane forecast information and the evacuation behavior of residents.  Horry County, South Carolina serves as the study area for the research, selected based on the availability of a longitudinal sample of individual evacuation behavior associated with Hurricanes Bertha, Fran, Bonnie, and Floyd.

Four research questions guide the study to explore the relationship between forecast information, sources of that information, the style of that communication and behavior, actual and intended: 1.) What is the nature of the relationship between storm and forecast characteristics and evacuation behavior? 2.) Does the perceived credibility of the source of forecast information influence evacuation behavior? 3.) How does communication style influence evacuation behavior? and 4.) What factors help to explain the decision to evacuate?  Three data sources are required to answer these research questions, the longitudinal series of evacuation behavior surveys, hurricane forecast information, and a survey of hurricane forecast information.

This study documents and models the complexities in evacuation behavior.  It confirms several key observations made in previous research and furthers our understanding of those findings by tracing the behavior of individuals through time.  The influences of storm intensity on behavior, the role of past experience, and lack of trust in public officials are all confirmed here.  The anticipated influence of forecast error was not detected in the study sample.  The source of forecast information was not effective in differentiating evacuation participants from those choosing to remain in their homes.  The style of communication was found to influence the intended behavior of individuals.  While the sample size diminishes the statistical significance of the findings, it does not diminish the significance of their implications.  Findings document the emergence of a hurricane-culture within the study sample that may or may not exist in the general population.  These residents have developed clear and accurate coping mechanisms in response to the repeat  threat posed by hurricanes.  This culture is seen most clearly in the way residents cope with the uncertainty in forecasts and their assessment of each storm individually, crying-wolf syndrome does not impact the evacuation decision of these Horry County residents.