Project Description

Hurricanes present among the most challenging topics of investigation because of their unpredictable, yet, seasonal occurrence, and their potential for large-scale destruction. Despite the considerable research that has been conducted on the human and social dynamics surrounding hurricanes, there have been surprisingly few examinations of the manner in which individuals perceive hurricane risk and subsequently make evacuation decisions.

The Dynamics of Hurricane Risk Perception Study aimed to understand hurricane risk perception and the influence of risk perception along with other socio-demographic factors on evacuation decision-making. The three-year panel study involved both mail surveys and telephone interviews with residents living within 10 miles of either the U.S. Gulf or Atlantic coastline from Wilmington, North Carolina to Brownsville, Texas.

Survey Participant Locations, 2010

Specific Aims

  1. Developed a reliable and valid quantitative measure of hurricane risk perception.
  2. Examined how hurricane risk perception acts on the stated intentions of individuals and households to evacuate from a hurricane.
  3. Gathered real-time qualitative data on the information sources, social influences, and decision processes underlying perception of risk and evacuation behavior through telephone interviews in both the pre-event and recovery periods of hurricane landfalls.


  1. This study developed an improved approach to risk perception in this context, and also opened new avenues for inquiry as an improved understanding of the effect of risk perception on behavior.
  2. By understanding informational sources and warning communications effect on evacuation decisions, this study enhanced our ability to communicate hurricane warning information, including testing of new visual communication maps of hurricane landfall impacts.
  3. Drawing on a good representation of elderly and disabled participants, this study spoke to these two understudied populations in terms of hurricane evacuation concerns and processes, providing insight to communities as they planned and prepared for hurricane response with a socially vulnerable aging U.S. population.


The first wave of survey data was collected in June 2010. The second wave surveys were mailed in May 2011. The third wave of surveys were distributed just prior to the 2012 hurricane season.

Project Funder: National Science Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Project Principal Investigator: Craig Trumbo, Journalism and Technical Communication, Colorado State University

Research Team: Lori Peek and Michelle Meyer, Sociology, Brian McNoldy and Wayne Schubert, Atmospheric Science, Holly Marlatt, Journalism and Technical Communication, Colorado State University; Eve Gruntfest, Trauma, Health & Hazards Center, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Project Timeline: June 2010 – December 2012

Associated Publications

Trumbo, Craig, Michelle A. Meyer, Holly Marlatt, Lori Peek, and Bridget Morrissey. 2014. "An Assessment of Change in Risk Perception and Optimistic Bias for Hurricanes Among Gulf Coast Residents." Risk Analysis 34(6): 1013-1024.

Trumbo, Craig W. 2012. “Communicating the Significance of Risk.” Communication and Engagement with Science and Technology: Issues and Dilemmas, edited by J. K. Gilbert, B. Lewenstein and S.M. Stocklmayer: Oxford: Routledge.

Trumbo, Craig, Michelle Lueck, Holly Marlatt, and Lori Peek. 2011. “The Effect of Proximity to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Subsequent Hurricane Outlook and Optimistic Bias.” Risk Analysis: An International Journal 31(12): 1907-1918.