Date of Conferral







Robert DeYoung


In the past decade, weather disasters have claimed thousands of lives and resulted in billions of dollars in damages. Awareness of a storm threats can occur hours or days in advance, but disaster assessments indicate many people do not heed storm warnings. This problem is old. Despite 50 years of research, and new technologies and training to improve responsiveness, the basic issue– understanding how people interpret and respond to weather warnings–persists. An exploratory study that incorporated human behavior theories and communication models not traditionally associated with severe weather analysis was conducted to learn how weather risks are perceived by nonscientists. Emergency management personnel, a group consisting of emergency managers, support staff and law enforcement telecommunicators from two Midwestern states, were asked to read tornado warnings issued for storms that occurred in 2013 and 2014. Individuals were then interviewed to learn (a) how they perceived the risk and (b) their response to information conveyed by the warnings. Data analyses software was used to examine perceptions of severity, susceptibility, and response efficacy. Findings indicated that perceptions of risk and response depend upon relationships: trust in the source of the message, job responsibly, knowledge of risk, personal experience, and the type of threat perceived. Benchmarks, that did not previously exist, were established for perceptions of severity, susceptibility, and response efficacy to severe weather warnings. This study is one step in the process of positive social change to improve the warning process and save lives. The tangible impact of positive social change will be demonstrated by warnings that increase public responsiveness and result in fewer weather related fatalities.