Individual Factors in Evacuation: Risk perception

During the 80’s, risk assessment emerged as a new field of study thanks to the development of chemical and nuclear technologies. With risk assessment Slovic (1987) refers to identifying, characterizing and quantifying risk. People assess risk in an intuitive and subjective way. Risk perception is based on the assumption that usually the objective assessment of a risk (made for example by an expert) differs from the subjective evaluation (Ho, Shaw, Lin, Chiu, 2008; Slovic, 1987). 

In natural hazards, risk perception depends on the characteristics of the hazard itself and on the features of the victims and generally of the people leaving around. Of course environmental disasters vary according to different features (for example they can be predictable or unpredictable, more or less geographically located) and the human response to them change as well. Ho and colleagues’ research (2008) is interested to better understand this point. Taking into consideration floods and landslides in Taiwan, as they do, risk perception of the two hazards is very different depending on the differences between them. Floods are a natural phenomenon that occurs as a predictable annual event and usually it ends with lots of damage that cause high economical loss but relatively few human casualties. There are several preventative measures that people can adopt trying to reduce the financial loss, like position sand bags, move belongings to the upper floors, and so on. On the other hand, landslides are random events and their main concern is the human casualties. People main contrast this type of hazard with a unique measure: evacuation. These differences result in differences in risk perception. Ho and colleagues (2008) for example founded out that “a higher sense of controllability (know mitigation actions, able to control) can effectively reduce the perceived disaster impacts for the landslide victims, but not for the flood victims” (Ho, Shaw, Lin & Chiu, 2008, p. 640).

Victims’ characteristics that affect risk perception are: previous experience with disasters, gender and education (Gustafson, 1998; Sjöberg, 2000; Ho, Shaw, Lin & Chiu, 2008). People that have experienced the hazard before reports higher level of fear, consider the hazard to be more life threatening and perceives a higher occurrence rate of disasters. Females experience more fear associated to the hazard, think that it is more life threatening and are more scared regarding financial loss than males. This is probably because women are more sensitive, more physically vulnerable and have lower socio-economic status than males. Higher level of education means that people are more able to understand instructions and information and have higher level of controllability. Others personal dimension that the research have been considered during the last 15 years are: age (Hermand et al., 1999), training in science (Karpowicz-Lazreg & Mullet, 1993), income (Flynn et al., 1994; Palmer, 2003), religious orientation (Sjöberg & af Wahlberg, 2002), political preferences (Sjöberg, 2000), culture (Mullet et al., 2005), risk attitude (Vollrath et al., 1999; Sjöberg, 2003), personal experience with the hazard (Barnett & Breakwell, 2001;Rogers, 1997), values (Sjöberg, 2000), social trust (Siegrist et al ., 2000; Vicklund, 2003), anxiety (Bouyer et al ., 2001; Källmèn, 2000), self-efficacy (e.g., Kouabenan, 1998; Källmèn, 2000), locus of control (e.g., Källmèn, 2000), worldviews (Bouyer et al., 2001; Brenot et al., 1998), new age beliefs (Sjöberg & af Wahlberg, 2002), environmental beliefs (Sjöberg, 2003), the viewpoint (risk for self or risk for others) taken by the person (Hermand et al., 2003; Sjöberg, 2000), and finally the classical personality factors (Sjöberg, 2003).



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