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Using Q method and agent based modelling to understand hurricane evacuation decisions

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posted on 2023-06-08, 19:07 authored by Robert David Oakes
A significant minority of at risk residents in the USA do not evacuate from an approaching hurricane when they are advised to by local authorities. This causes unnecessary deaths, injuries and suffering; a situation which is likely to intensify under predicted climate change. This thesis argues that non-evacuation is not fully understood as both the academic and policy framing of the decision to evacuate is centred around technical and socio-economic approaches which assume that risk is objective and “rational” people will evacuate if they have the material means to do so. This thesis argues that rationalities are differentiated and decision making is also a process which is influenced by members of a social network. Therefore there is a need for a more constructivist approach to get a deeper understanding of the subjectivity of hurricane evacuation. In this thesis, the theory of reasoned action is used as the framework of decision making as it highlights the importance of subjective attitudes and subjective norms on behaviour. A mixed methods case study of Hurricane Ike is used to analyse the evacuation of Galveston Island, Texas. Firstly a “Q” study was undertaken with 40 residents of Galveston, which unveiled four distinct subjective evacuation attitudes, demonstrating that people understand hurricane risk in different ways which impact on their decision to evacuate. The results of the Q study were then used to parameterise an agent based model, designed to investigate community level evacuation. The model showed that it is possible to explain island-level evacuation through the combination of subjective evacuation attitudes and subjective norms which can interact to produce emergent, or unpredicted behaviour. This thesis represents a fundamental challenge to positivist approaches and clearly demonstrates the value of a more constructivist approach to understanding hurricane evacuation based on subjective evacuation attitudes and subjective norms.


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  • Geography Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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