Shooting at hurricanes: disaster (mis)perceptions and (un)preparedness of Florida undergraduates

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Thursday, 21 January 2010: 9:00 AM
B213 (GWCC)
Alyssa Collins, University of South Florida; and S. Cramer, J. Norlund, J. Simms, M.A., M. Kusenbach, Ph.D., and G. Tobin, Ph.D.

Presentation PDF (1.1 MB)


The goal of this research was to document and analyze the perceptions of undergraduate students about the nature of hurricanes and their preparations to deal with the threat of a hurricane landfall in their area. The research has direct applications in providing the university with information about the attitudes of its undergraduates toward hurricanes, and also in providing undergraduates with additional information through the university.

While disaster research has examined many different groups, one of the more overlooked segments is that of student populations and the effects that such events can have on them. The research that has been undertaken shows that students are generally a more vulnerable group to catastrophe than some other segments of the communities in which they reside. Variables like age, gender, type of residence, and owning a pet all contribute to the viewpoints that students hold with respect to hurricanes, and these views significantly influence how students prepare for hurricanes or perceive their current level of preparedness. Based on the literature, several questions were raised with respect to undergraduate student populations and their perceptions towards hurricanes, namely:

1. How do undergraduates perceive their ongoing risk from land falling hurricanes?

2. What are the main contributing factors to student risk from hurricanes?

3. What have undergraduates done to prepare for hurricanes, if anything?

4. How do undergraduates perceive their university's role in providing them proper information on hurricanes?

The study area for this research was the main campus of the University of South Florida (USF) located in Tampa, Florida, home to a large and diverse student body hailing mostly from Hillsborough County and surrounding areas, but also including a significant number of students from other states and countries. The site was chosen because of the large population of undergraduates on campus for summer, its diverse student body, and the proximity to our study locus. This combination of factors makes USF an adequate location to conduct a study.

Results showed:

The city of Tampa is situated in a high hazard risk area; the community is exposed to hurricane activity, lies within the storm surge zones even for low category events and has a highly vulnerable population.

Undergraduates overestimate the likelihood of a hurricane or a tropical storm coming to Tampa in any given season, but do not show an equivalent level of concern for these systems. Undergraduates also tended to be fairly neutral when asked their perceived level of preparedness. It may be concluded that while undergraduates are aware of Tampa's vulnerability to hurricanes, they take it lightly.

While many undergraduates at USF have experienced a hurricane, most did not evacuate for the last one experienced, and the majority has not made any preparations this season. Undergraduates may be under the belief that since they survived the last hurricane, they can survive again for the next system.

A majority of students believe that USF has not done a good job providing them with information on hurricanes, and that USF has never given them any information on hurricanes. However, analysis of the data found that students in dormitories were more likely to state that USF has provided them with good information on hurricanes. Given that USF is moving toward becoming less of a commuter school by requiring all freshmen to live on campus, this is an encouraging sign that the university is being proactive in making sure that at least its on-campus students are informed about hurricanes.

The research showed that students who have made preparations for hurricanes tend to be more confident in their ability to deal with hurricanes, and those who have made evacuation plans are more confident in their ability to evacuate quickly.

From these findings our research team recommends that:

USF should look further into the possibility of a hurricane workshop for undergraduates. With over half of the student body stating that a workshop of some sort on hurricanes would be useful to them, and the team finding that many students are misinformed on basic information about hurricanes, a workshop giving information on these disasters could be very useful to the undergraduate community.

Students with pets need to receive more information on how to prepare for hurricanes. From this research, it is obvious that USF needs to better inform students about hurricanes and it is also clear that a large number of USF students own pets. Therefore, USF should make sure to include important information on pets in hurricanes with the rest of their hurricane preparedness information.

USF should make MoBull a requirement for all students on campus. When incoming freshmen register, their phone numbers should be inputted into a database and their phones automatically registered for MoBull. That way all students can have access to the same information and USF can distribute information in a timely manner.