89th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 13 January 2009: 2:00 PM
Societal Impacts of Weather Hazards: Understanding Public Response to Tornado Events
Room 121A (Phoenix Convention Center)
Havidan Rodriguez, Univ. of Delaware, Newark, DE; and J. Santos and W. Diaz
Disasters are not natural; they are human made, socially constructed events. Although a hazard event (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.) can be devastating for a particular society, its effects are exacerbated by cultural, social, economic, and political factors. Therefore, the consequences of a hazard event are a product of the event itself, the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the population, population vulnerability, and the built environment.

Recent technological innovations and scientific advancements have resulted in a better understanding regarding the prediction and detection of weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, thus increasing the accuracy of weather forecasts and warnings. However, weather forecasting remains a probabilistic science with inherent uncertainties, which impact how individuals and communities at large prepare and respond to disasters.

As part of an Engineering Research Center (ERC), social scientists at the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center (DRC) are studying the public's knowledge, perceptions, attitudes, and response to tornado events. Using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), we selected random samples of individuals in communities impacted by tornadoes in 2008, including communities in Kansas, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Currently, over 200 individuals have been interviewed. Through structured surveys, we explore the perceptions of the interviewees regarding warnings, lead time, false alarms, and protective action in the context of tornado touchdowns in these regions. We also focus on the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of this sample and their impact on protective action. Findings from this research will allow us to match scientific and technological developments with the needs, perceptions, and knowledge of end-users, thus enhancing the societal value and use of such innovations. Further, it will contribute to our knowledge base regarding the roles, challenges, and opportunities confronting communities impacted by tornado events. This is imperative if we are to improve disaster mitigation, response, and recovery at the local and national level.

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