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Increasing risk perception alone won't improve preparedness

START researchers publish new study on disaster preparedness

Risk perception does not have a significant direct effect on disaster preparedness behavior, according to a new study by START researchers, published in the current issue of Environment and Behavior. In "An Examination of the Effect of Perceived Risk on Preparedness Behavior," the research team explored and specified the impact of risk perception on household preparedness for terrorism based on a representative sample of households in the United States.

The researchers found that the effect of risk perception is largely mediated by knowledge, perceived efficacy and milling behavior and that risk perception may be a necessary but not a sufficient cause of investing in preparedness behaviors.

"There has been an assumption in 'disaster research' that if you increase the population's perception that it is at risk, you will increase their investment in disaster preparedness and mitigation activities," said Linda Bourque, START researcher and a lead author on the paper. "While some minimal threshold of perceived risk seems to trigger the process by which households decide whether or not to invest in hazard adjustments and preparedness behaviors, our analyses show that simply increasing perceived risk will not by itself lead to improved preparedness."

Bourque and her co-authors -- Melissa M. Kelley, Megumi Kano, Rotrease Regan, Michele M. Wood and Dennis S. Mileti, found that on average, respondents in the study only executed one of the four preparedness activities they judged to be effective for dealing with terrorism: developing emergency plans, stockpiling supplies, purchasing things to make them safer or duplicating important documents.

The study is part of the National Survey of Disaster Experiences and Preparedness (NSDEP), which is funded by the Department of Homeland Security through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and the National Science Foundation.