USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development

Contents of Recent Issues

Volume 16, No. 3 (November 1998)

    Presidential Address:

      T. Joseph Scanlon, "Munitions Ships and Meteors: Plus c'est change . . . ," pp. 233-245.

    Articles by:

      R. Denise Blanchard-Boehm, "Understanding Public Response to Increased Risk from Natural Hazards: Application of the Hazards Risk Communication Framework," pp. 247-278.

        For the past four decades, researchers in the field of natural hazards have studied extensively how people "hear" warning messages of potential natural disasters and then, eventually, how they "respond" by way of adopting preparation and mitigation measures. Until the 1980s, a single framework did not exist for understanding risk communication as an integrated process. Much of the early research on risk communication was piecemeal and descriptive, and consisted of exploring the details of communicating risk within the events of a particular disaster. The proliferation of research on risk communication over several decades, though, has resulted in the evolution of a general model of hazards risk communication. This model presupposes that the process of risk communication is one whereby individuals: (1) hear a warning message; (2) understand its content; (3) internalize or believe the salience of its message; (4) confirm one's interpretation with others; and (5) act or respond to its message to save one's life and property. This paper applies the risk communication framework and its principles to a case study where probabilities were increased in 1990 of future earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area. Following the scientific community's announcement, a low-key warning was issued to approximately two million residents through a large-scale information campaign. This study demonstrates that the risk communication model is an invaluable tool for helping us to understand the behavior of individuals who must learn of and act upon warning information that could say their lives and property. Further, researchers are urged to find ways to adapt this risk communication model to other types of natural and human-made hazards. (AA)

      L. Erwin Atwood and Ann Marie Major, "Exploring the 'Cry Wolf' Hypothesis," pp. 279-302.

        The "cry wolf" hypothesis argues that individuals who have experienced predictions of disasters that do not materialize will discount the validity of subsequent disaster warnings. This belief in the false alarm effect is widely mentioned in the disaster literature, and anecdotal material appears to support the validity of the hypothesis. This study of a false earthquake warning supports experimental findings indicating that cancellation of a disaster warning leads to a false alarm effect. Following cancellation of the threat by the non-appearance of the predicted earthquake, 46.7 percent of the panel respondents indicated that they would pay less attention whereas only 16.7 percent said that they would pay more attention to a future earthquake prediction. The panel data also suggest that the mass media were substantial contributors to the observed false alarm effect, while at the same time the media escaped blame for their contributions to the problem. (AA)

      John E. Farley, "Down But Not Out: Earthquake Awareness and Preparedness Trends in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, 1990-1997," pp. 303-319.

        This paper reports results of a telephone survey in the St. Louis metropolitan area assessing household earthquake awareness and preparedness in November 1997. The survey extends time-series data on awareness and preparedness in the area, which I obtained from earlier surveys conducted at October 1990, February 1991, July 1992, and May 1993. The previous surveys constitute the only time-series data assessing the effects of a pseudoscientific earthquake prediction (in this case, one made by the late Iben Browning) with measurement of attitudes and beliefs both before and after disconfirmation of the prediction. In general, the new survey shows that both the perceived risk of a damaging earthquake and levels of household preparedness in the region have undergone steady, long-term declines since 1991. There has also been some decline in concern about earthquake risk since 1992. Nonetheless, there has been some lasting effect of preparation actions taken in response to Iben Browning's 1990 pseudoscientific earthquake prediction. For all three preparedness actions for which data are available from 1990 through 1997, the 1997 data indicate a higher level of preparedness than was observed in October 1990, two months before the date on which Browning said a damaging earthquake was likely. And the level of preparedness is much higher than was observed in the larger New Madrid region in another survey taken in 1987. (AA)

      Stephen Sweet, "The Effect of a Natural Disaster on Social Cohesion: A Longitudinal Study," pp. 321-331.

        On January 8, 1998, a severe ice storm devastated electrical power grids and caused extensive environmental damage in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. This study examines the effect this natural disaster had on perceptions of social relations in the village of Potsdam, a rural community in northern New York State. Residents (N=88) were surveyed on their perceptions of their community one month following the disaster. These data are compared with a surveyed (N=127) of community perceptions conducted three years prior to the disaster. These two surveys provide a rare opportunity to perform a longitudinal study of the effects of the disaster on social cohesion. Findings indicate that social cohesion increases in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. However, one month after the disaster, perceptions of the community return to predisaster levels. This study indicates that there are few lasting effects on social cohesion resulting from a natural disaster. (AA)

    Feedback From The Field

      Kenneth R. Wedel and Donald R. Baker, "After the Oklahoma City Bombing: A Case Study of the Resource Coordination Committee," pp. 333-362

      Jeyanth K. Newport and Godfrey G. P. Jawahar, "Crisis Intervention by Community Participation," pp. 363-370.

    Book reviews by:

      Thomas Birkland on Elliott Mittler, Craig Taylor, and William Petak, National Earthquake Probabilistic Hazard Mapping Program: Lessons for Knowledge, pp. 371-373.

      James Mills on Eric Noji (ed.), The Public Health Consequences of Disasters, pp. 375-376.

      Robert Stallings on Charles Fritz, Disasters and Mental Health, pp. 377-378.

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