Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Category change and risk perception: Hurricane Irene and coastal North Carolina

William Pace, MA, Burrell Montz, PhD


Objective: This research explores variations in risk perception with location and changes in the intensity of a hurricane (Hurricane Irene in 2011).

Design: Surveys were mailed to a random sample of 601 year-round residents of two counties in coastal North Carolina. Within each county, areas were chosen based on their risk with respect to wind or storm surge; an equal number of surveys were sent to each area. A 31 percent return rate was achieved.

Setting: Dare County on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Beaufort County on the Inner Banks were chosen as study areas because of the nature and extent of damage incurred from Hurricane Irene.

Main Outcome Measure: Because Hurricane Irene was downgraded before it made landfall in North Carolina, it was anticipated that residents would perceive themselves to be at less risk to hurricane-related hazards with differences related to location on the Atlantic Ocean or on the Sound.

Results: Little difference was found between the Inner and Outer Banks locations such that all reported the change in intensity influenced their perceptions by reducing the sense of risk. This varied somewhat, but not significantly, by hazard area.

Conclusions: The downgrading of Hurricane Irene created a false sense of security. Residents of the study area believed themselves to be at low risk and were unlikely to evacuate, despite warnings. The long duration of the event, however, led to significant damages, surprising many, and suggesting the need to emphasize impacts in messaging, no matter the storm intensity.


risk perception, hurricane intensity, location, hurricane hazards

Full Text:



Sorensen JH: Hazard warning systems: Review of 20 years of progress. Nat Hazards Rev. 2000; 1(2): 119-125.

Rogers R, Aberson S, Black M, et al.: The intensity forecasting experiment: A NOAA mulityear field program for improving tropical cyclone intensity forecasts. Bull Am Meteorol Soc. 2006; 87(11): 1523-1537.

DeMaria M, Mainelli M, Shay LK, et al.: Further improvements to the statistical hurricane intensity prediction scheme (SHIPS). Weather Forecasting. 2005; 20(2): 531-543.

Franklin JL, McAdie CJ, Lawrence MB: Trend in track forecasting for tropical cyclones threatening the United States, 1970-2001. Bull Am Meteorol Soc. 2003; 84(9): 1197-1203.

Aberson SD: The ensemble of tropical cyclone track forecasting models in the North Atlantic Basin (1976-2000). Bull Am Meteorol Soc. 2001; 82(9): 1895-1904.

Wilson SG, Fischetti TR: Coastline population trends in the United States: 1960 to 2008. US Census Bureau, 2010. Available at Accessed July 2, 2013.

Beven J: Preliminary report: Hurricane Dennis 24 August-September 1999. National Hurricane Center 2000. Available at Accessed May 22, 2013.

Pasch RJ, Kimberlain TB, Stewart SR: Preminiary report: Hurricane Floyd 7-17 September 1999. National Hurricane Center, 1999. Available at Accessed May 22, 2013.

Beven J, Cobb H: Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Isabel, 6-19 September 2003. National Hurricane Center, 2004. Available at Accessed September 13, 2012.

Avila LA, Cangialosi J: Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Irene (AL0902011) 21-28 August 2011. National Hurricane Center, 2011. Available at Accessed July 5, 2012.

Fanelli C, Fanelli P: NOAA water level and meteorological data report: Hurricane Irene. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2011. Available at Accessed March 30, 2012.

McCallum BE, Painter JA, Frantz ER: Monitoring inland storm tide and flooding from Hurricane Irene along the Atlantic Coast of the United States, August 2011. US Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1022, 2012. Available at Accessed March 27, 2012.

Federal Emergency Management Agency: North Carolina Hurricane Irene (DR-4019). Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2011. Available at Accessed April 21, 2013.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety: Hurricane Irene 2011. North Carolina Department of Public Safety, 2012. Available at,000010,002050,002063. Accessed April 25, 2013.

Walker S: Applicants to receive $13.9 million from FEMA. The Outer Banks Voice. September 27, 2011. Available at Accessed April 30, 2013.

Walker S: Dare second nationwide in hurricane damage. The Outer Banks Voice. October 18, 2011. Available at Accessed April 30, 2013.

Peacock WG, Brody SD, Highfield W: Hurricane risk perception among Florida's single-family homeowners. Landscape Urban Planning. 2005; 13(2-3): 120-135.

Dash N, Gladwin H: Evacuation decision-making and behavioral response: Individual and household. Nat Hazards Rev. 2007; 8(3): 69-77.

Lindall MK, Hwang SN: Households' perceived personal risk and responses in a multihazard environment. Risk Analysis. 2008; 28(2): 539-556.

Bateman JM, Edwards B: Gender and evacuation: A closer look at why women are more likely to evacuate for hurricanes. Nat Hazards Rev. 2002; 3(3): 107-117.

Slovic P: Informing and educating the public about risk. Risk Analysis. 1986; 6(4): 403-415.

Kasperson RE, Renn O, Slovic P, et al.: The Social amplification of risk: A conceptual framework. Risk Analysis. 1988; 8(2): 177-187.

Beatly T, Brower DJ: Public perception of hurricane hazards: Examining the differential effects of hurricane Diana. Coastal Zone Manage J. 1986; 14(3): 241-269.

Zhang Y, Prater CS, Lindell MK: Risk area accuracy and evacuation from Hurricane Bret. Nat Hazards Rev. 2004; 5(3): 115-120.

Arlikatti S, Lindell, MK, Prater CS, et al.: Risk area accuracy and hurricane evacuation: Expectation of coastal residents. Environment Behav. 2006; 38(2): 226-247.

Brody SD, Highfield, W, Alston L: Does location matter?. Measuring environmental perception of creeks in two San Antonio Watersheds. Environment Behav. 2004; 36(2): 229-250.

Brommer DM, Senkbeil JC: Pre-landfall evacuee perception of the meteorological hazards associated with Hurricane Gustav. Nat Hazards. 2010; 55(2): 353-369.

Whitehead JC, Edwards B, Van Willigen M, et al.: Heading for higher ground: Factors for affecting real and hypothetical hurricane evacuation behavior. Environmental Hazards. 2000; 2(4): 133-142.

Mileti DS, O'Brien PS: Warnings during disaster: Normalizing communication risk. Soc Problems. 1992; 39(1): 40-57.

Dow K, Cutter SL: Crying wolf: Repeat responses to hurricane evacuation orders. Coastal Manage. 1998; 26(4): 143-155.

Piotrowski C, Armstrong TR: Mass media preferences in disaster: A study of Hurricane Danny. Soc Behav Personality. 1998; 26(4): 341-346.

Sherman-Morris K, Senkbeil J, Carver R: Who's Googling what? What Internet searches reveal about hurricane information seeking. Bull Am Meteorol Soc. 2011; 92(8): 975-985.

Christensen L, Ruch CE: The effect of social influence on response to hurricane warnings. Disasters. 1980; 4(2): 205-210.

NOAA: National Weather Service. Mother's Day Weekend Tornado in Oklahoma and Missouri, May 10, 2008. NOAA, 2009. Available at Accessed January 10, 2014.

NOAA: National Weather Service. NWS Central Region Service Assessment Joplin, Missouri, Tornado – May 22, 2011. NOAA, 2011. Available at Accessed January 10, 2014.

Lindell MK, Lu J, Prater CS: Household decision making and evacuation in response to Hurricane Lili. Nat Hazards Rev. 2005; 6(4): 171-179.

Burnside R, Shondell D, Rivera JD: The impact of information and risk perception on the hurricane evacuation decision-making of greater New Orleans residents. Sociol Spectrum. 2007; 27(6): 727-740.

Baker EJ: Hurricane evacuation behavior. Int J Mass Emerg Disasters. 1991; 9(2): 287-310.

Demuth JL, Morss RS, Morrow BH, et al.: Creation and communication of hurricane risk information. Bull Am Meteorol Soc. 2012; 93(8): 1133-1145.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction: Geography of North Carolina. Available at Accessed June 3, 2013.

Smith P: People-First Tourism: Connecting with Nature's Bounty. Coastwatch. Autumn 2012. Available at Accessed May 28, 2013.

Baker EJ: Predicting response to hurricane warnings: A reanalysis of data from four studies. Mass Emerg. 1979; 4(1): 9-24.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2016 Journal of Emergency Management