Risk Perception and Behaviors: Anticipating and Responding to Crises

Publication Type: 
William J. Burns
Paul Slovic
The past decade has witnessed disasters on a scale of human suffering and economic costs that have served to alert scientists and public officials alike of the challenges that lay ahead in the management of risk. Natural disasters such as Katrina (2005), the earthquake in Haiti (2010), and the tsunami in Southeast Asia (2004) have put cities, nations, and even entire regions of the world in harm’s way, producing a toll of $380 billion in losses in 2011.(1) On September 11, 2001, a small band of highly determined extremists were able, through their terrorist attacks, to shape U.S. policy in unprecedented ways, leading America to war and to dramatic security measures at home. The world economy has also not been spared from crisis, as in September 2008 it teetered on the verge of economic collapse following the cascading failures of mortgage and fi- nancial markets in the United States and elsewhere. More recently, in March 2011 the world witnessed in horror as Japan struggled to deal with the triple calamity of a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. These events remind us that as individuals, organizations, communities, and nations we are highly vulnerable to catastrophic events. This vulnerability arises not just because of the scale or unpredictability of these disasters, but because of the complex manner in which people and institutions respond to risk. For example, perceptions of risk and risk-related behaviors may amplify the social, political, and economic impact of disasters well beyond their direct consequences as they did following the 1Decision Research, Eugene, OR, USA. 2Information Systems and Operation Management, Cal state University, San Marcos, CA, USA. ∗Address correspondence to William J. Burns, Decision Research, 1201 Oak St., Eugene, OR 97401, USA; tel: 541-485-2400; fax: 541-485-2403; bburns@csusm.edu. attacks on September 11. There is a clear need to provide researchers and practitioners with a better understanding of how individuals, communities, and even nations should prepare for and respond to such calamities.