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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

What is Your Professional Opinion? Risk Perception of Natural and Technological Hazards Among County Emergency Management Directors in South Carolina

Patrice Burns

Advisor:  Dr. Susan L. Cutter



No study in the current literature has addressed the question of differences in risk perception among experts who work for the same institution and share the same job description.  The purpose of this thesis was to re-evaluate hazard analyses completed in 1985 and 1992 by the South Carolina Emergency Preparedness Division to investigate variations of risk perceptions among the 46 county emergency management directors in South Carolina. The basic questions asked were (1) do risk perceptions among county emergency managers vary (2) if so, what factor(s) are responsible for those differences (3) do social demographics of an area play a role (4) and how accurate are the risk perceptions in relation to the real occurrence of the hazard?

Several methods were used to approach these basic questions. First, earlier surveys were replicated and the results were compared to assess changes in hazard cognition over time.  Second, the influence of differing weighting schemes on overall hazardousness scores was investigated to test the relative importance of assigning different values to various risk components.  In addition, a hazard assessment by county was constructed based on four data sets, (1) perceptual scores from 1985 and 1992, (2) perceptual scores from 2000, (3) scores derived from historical frequency of actual events, and (4) scores derived from a combination of the frequency data set with demographic variables.  Finally, this thesis ascertained the level of agreement between the actual level of threat and the perceptions of threat by county directors.  Perceptions of threat held by South Carolina emergency management directors were found to vary, and the factors behind these variations included the probability of actual occurrences of hazards, social demographics, and proximity to the threat.