Open Access
Wang, Chongming
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 09, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Brenton Yarnal, Dissertation Advisor
  • Brenton Yarnal, Committee Chair
  • Alexander Klippel, Committee Member
  • John Anthony Kelmelis, Committee Member
  • Steven Howard Zarit, Outside Member
  • Hurricanes
  • Old adults
  • Risk Perception
  • Preparedness
  • Evacuation
  • Florida
Vulnerability of older adults in all stages of a disaster is well recognized by both scholars and practitioners. However, most relevant empirical research to date has focused on disaster recovery and reconstruction, leaving unanswered the “how” and “why” questions surrounding disaster preparedness and response among older people. The older people’s perceptions of natural hazard risks have been even less explored. To address these research gaps, this study uses a case study of older residents of Sarasota County, Florida and applies a qualitative method to understand the perception, preparedness, and evacuation intention of older people at risk from hurricane hazards. The individual in-depth interviews generate several findings. First, while older residents’ knowledge of hurricane threats varied from simple to sophisticated, their perceptions of hurricane risks were predominantly low due to a local myth and hurricane quiescence in recent memory. Second, most older residents took generic actions by preparing extra water, food, and medications, but lacked efforts in more hurricane-specific preparedness due to complacency and lack of awareness, financial capital, and social capital. Third, although a minority of older residents would definitely either shelter in place or evacuate, most demonstrated flexibility with hurricane evacuation and would make spontaneous and situational choices for staying versus leaving in the event of a hurricane. In sum, this dissertation utilizes a qualitative inquiry to weave richer personal and contextual details that are less visible through a quantitative lens to make sense of a population-specific and site-specific vulnerability to hurricane hazards. As the older populations continue to grow in size and diversify in characteristics, my research aims to advance understanding of the internal commonality and variability among older adults and help inform need-based rather than strictly age-contingent policies for hazard vulnerability reduction and resilience building.