Why People Underprepare for Natural Hazard?

Natural hazards are major adverse events resulting from natural processes. Natural disaster can cause loss of life or property damage, the severity of which depends on the affected population’s resilience and their ability to recover. They are fundamentally unpredictable and low probability events.


It has been widely recognized that the human and economic losses from natural disasters have been increasing drastically over the last three decades. These catastrophic losses are mostly driven by the population density and concentration of economic assets in disaster-prone areas (tropical coasts and river deltas, near forests and along earthquake fault lines). The US coast represents a microcosm of the world urbanization exposed to natural hazards.

In fact, its East Coast, from New York to Texas through Florida, hosted more than 36% of the total population in (US Census, 2010), and nearly $8.3 trillion of insured and hurricane-prone assets (Kunreuther and Michel-Kerjan, 2009). Along with Robert Meyer, they were intrigued by the mismatch between the increasing investment in hazard prone areas such as the waterfront development on the coasts and the under-investment in risk-reduction and mitigation measures (Kunreuther, 2013). They related people’s failure to mitigate against natural hazards to some fundamental decision biases that can’t be explained by the mainstream micro-economics theory, mostly accounting for maximizing utilities with no attention to people’s perception and behavior toward risks. In addition, they associated these behavioral biases, along with the government’s post-disaster relief, to what they called a “natural disaster syndrome”.

What are the features of the “natural disaster syndrome”? What are these cognitive decision biases? What drivers hinder residents’ investment in hazard’s way? (To be continued)

NOTE: The photos are drawn from http://www.hurricanekatrina.com

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